BULLS : GOAL LINE STAND : EAST CAROLINA
By Leo Haggerty
The South Florida Bulls travel to Greenville to take on the East Carolina Pirates Saturday in an American Athletic Conference tilt. Kickoff is scheduled for high noon at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium with the winner continuing to set the pace at the top of the AAC East.
Road conference games are always tough and ECU will be no exception especially if South Florida doesn’t come to North Carolina with their A game. Here’s the four goals I believe the Bulls need to accomplish to come home with a win.
1ST & GOAL-DON’T READ THE PRESS CLIPPINGS
No one gave Clemson a “snowball’s chance in you-know-where” of beating undefeated Alabama in the National Championship game right here in Tampa last season. And you know what, those prognosticators were one second away from being correct.
USF doesn’t even have to go back that far for motivation. All I have to do, if I’m HC Charlie Strong, is remind my team about the last, and only, time they went on the road. That was the opening game of the season at San Jose State and to say that contest didn’t start well for the Bulls would be an understatement.
The Bulls were nationally ranked, in the lower quarter of the Top 25, and may have had the mindset that the Spartans were going to just roll over and play dead. Nothing was farther from the truth as SJSU jumped out to a 16-0 first quarter lead before USF knew what hit them.
Luckily, the Green & Gold woke up in time to grasp victory from the jaws of defeat but that cannot keep happening. I look for the South Florida coaching staff to be hammering the point that East Carolina, even with a 1-3 record, has that single victory in the conference posting a 41-38 victory at Connecticut.
The Bulls don’t need to read the press clippings. On paper, this is a blow out but the game isn’t played on parchment. The Pirates have the ability to put enough points on the scoreboard to steal a win in Greenville if South Florida comes in mentally unprepared.
2ND & GOAL-KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE
USF took one small step toward their ultimate goal of winning the American Athletic Conference Football Championship by dispatching the defending champion Temple Owls last week. As I wrote, it was the initial phase that will play out over the rest of the season.
Now it’s off to Part II for South Florida and that’s winning their first road conference game of the 2017 season. That happens Saturday in North Carolina when USF takes on the ECU Pirates in their most important game of the year.
Every game is vital in the Bulls master plan to take home their first AAC football championship. Any mistake could lead to the Green & Gold sitting home, like they did last December, and watching instead of competing for the title.
The prize is their for the taking. All the Bulls need to do is play them one at a time and keep climbing that mountain. No looking past anyone because that could lead to that conference loss that knocks South Florida out of contention.
3RD & GOAL-WIN THE HIDDEN YARDAGE BATTLE
I’m looking for the most important of the three phases of the game to be special teams especially when it comes to hidden yardage. It was a huge factor in the win over Temple and the Bulls need to use it to their advantage again against the Pirates.
The Bulls need to remember that the punt is an offensive play and to use P Jonathan Hernandez as a weapon. Look for the Bulls to try and “flip the field” by getting #44 to drop a few punts inside the 20-yard line.
That way South Florida can kick the defensive pressure up a notch and get a “three-and-out” right away. That will force the ECU punter to kick from deep in his own territory.
Short field will tell the tale of the game when the final whistle blows. If the Warp I offense has to travel less than 50 yards to get to the promised land, you can bet the house payment that the Bulls will emerge victorious.
4TH & GOAL-KEEP THE PETAL TO THE METAL
Let’s be brutally honest here. South Florida’s forte is scoring points quickly and in large quantities.
Don’t change that formula on Saturday. It ain’t broke so don’t fix it. Score early and often so the defense can just go after the Pirates with reckless abandon.
The Bulls, in almost two full years, have put up at least 30 points in every game. Don’t make this the exception to that rule.
I’m looking for this game to be the big breakout performance by the offense. For the first four contests, it has taken the Bulls a couple series to get the Warp I offense into high gear. This week in Greenville, Quinton Flowers & Company will score early and will score often.
The defense, so far, has shown up every week and I don’t expect that to change. The USF defenders are playing hungry and, after last season, are determined to show that they’re not the balking spark plug that causes the engine to misfire.
Finally, special teams got it right against Temple. The first goal is no negative sudden change plays and that box got checked. The icing on the cake was the five field goals by Emilio Nadelman.
East Carolina won’t go down without a fight. I expect the Bulls to be leading somewhere in the neighborhood of 24-14 at half. The second half though, will be all South Florida. This year, the Green & Gold just has too much firepower on both sides of the ball for the game but outgunned Pirates.
When the final whistle blows, USF will be on the right side of the scoreboard to the tune of 55-27. That keeps the undefeated bandwagon moving to 5-0 going into the bye week and the beat goes on.