BULLS : GOAL LINE STAND : ILLINOIS
By Leo Haggerty
Like Jon Gruden said, “You are what your record says you are” and the Bulls are 2-0. That’s the positive after the first two contests but there’s a whole lot of work to be done before USF takes to the road for a date with Illinois at historic Soldier Field in Chicago.
Here are the 4 specifics that I believe South Florida needs to accomplish to come away with a victory. None of them are easy but are doable.
FORGET ABOUT LAST YEAR’S GAME
The Illini are a totally different team than the one the Bulls beat 47-23 in Tampa. Why, you ask? Just look at the depth chart coming out of Champaign.
In the first two games, Illinois has played 16 true freshman with four of them, one tight and three defensive backs, given starting assignments.
Let’s take it one step further to the quarterback position. The Navy Blue & Orange, like the Bulls, started graduate transfer A.J. Bush in the season opener against Kent State and the following week against Western Illinois. He went down with an injury in the second quarter, and behold, HC Lovie Smith went to true freshman signal caller M.J. Rivers II who performed admirably.
Because they are newbies, the Bulls have very little film on both of the Illini QBs. Not a good thing for USF.
None of the players mentioned above played at the RayJay last season. So none of them have the memory of the one-sided loss that South Florida put on Illinois.
For that reason, don’t think this is going to be a cakewalk in the park. The Illini have waited a year to get back at the Green & Gold for the beat down they suffered last year.
HC Lovie Smith will have his charges out for revenge. Trust me, as a former player and coach, that’s one of the best motivators in getting players ready to play.
USF needs to focus and come out on fire. If they don’t, they could be in for another four quarters dogfight like they had with Georgia Tech last week. If that happens, it’s anybody’s game.
DON’T READ YOUR PRESS CLIPPINGS
Yes, you beat a Power 5 opponent in Georgia Tech last week. To me, it’s the way the Bulls ended up on the left side of the dash against the Yellowjackets that’s disconcerting.
First, 14 of the South Florida points were on no play drive kickoff returns by WR Terrance Horne Jr. The chance of that happening again is slim and none and Slim’s in Amarillo so the Bulls can’t count those points coming on a regular basis.
Second, Georgia Tech dropped just over 600 yards of offense on the USF defense and the Green & Gold came away victorious. According to HC Charlie Strong, he’s never had that happen before and it may never happen again for South Florida.
All the win over GT proved was that Special Teams are special. The Bulls have to make sure they take care of business on the defensive, and offensive, side of the football too.
RESPECT THE OPPOSITION
Illinois HC Lovie Smith is going to get players to come downstate to Champaign. You can take that to the bank.
That’s why the Illini are playing a home game in The Windy City. The former Bucs head honcho knows he has to create a pipeline of players out of the Chicagoland area to start winning on a consistent basis in the Big 10.
No better way to accomplish that goal then by playing a game in Chitown. That convinces recruits that your program is serious when you tell them we will play a game in your home town every year. Plus, what better way to emphasize that statement than come up with a victory.
Trust me, the Bulls are going to get the Illini’s best effort on Saturday. This is a make or break game for Illinois before heading into the meat grinder that is the Big !0 season.
USF needs to keep that in mind. Illinois will come out emotionally ready to play from the kickoff.
The Bulls need to match that intensity. The Green & Gold need to play hard from start to finish.
CHECK OUT THE FIELD CAREFULLY
Trust me, you are not playing on the pristine playing surface at Raymond James Stadium. In fact, there are probably some high school fields that are in better condition than what USF will experience in Chicago.
Even though you are playing in a National Football League venue, Soldier Field is notorious for being the site of the worse field in all of pro football. It’s a grass surface and don’t be surprised if the length of the blades are unusually long to negate the speed of South Florida. That’s called a home field advantage.
The Bulls, especially their skilled position players, need to walk the field to find all the problem spots before the tilt begins. USF players want to make a mental note of where the questionable footing areas are and what to do when they encounter them.
I had the Bulls 10-2 going into the 2018 campaign and this was one I believed would be on the left side of the dash. Still do especially after the kind of play that we are seeing from the quarterback position.
I have USF, 34-23, pulling away late to go to 3-0. Meet you at the TV.