I'll start my keys to victory for the South Florida game with the kicking game. I believe it's the most important aspect of Saturday's game with the Bulls. Arkansas should be the dominant team in most areas, so the kicking game is probably one of the chances the Bulls have to get even.
South Florida, under Jim Leavitt, has copied the Kansas State mold as far as placing heavy emphasis on the kicking game, especially in the punt game. The Bulls have run back two punts for scores and blocked two punts to setup two more scores ... all in just two weeks.
Hence, Arkansas must do a better job in the kicking game than it did against Boise State. The blocking must be perfect on punt protection, and Richie Butler must be a little quicker in getting his kicks off. The Hogs worked hard on those areas this week in practice. They also must do a good job in punt coverage. Many times when you concentrate a lot on punt protection, you are slow getting down field. The Bulls will return punts with a great player if the Hogs don't do a good job on coverage.
The next most important key in my mind will be defensive containment on quarterback Marquel Blackwell. The USF quarterback is a great passer, but he hurts teams the most with his escapability. He doesn't always run. He'll break out of the pocket and look for his second and third receivers. And, if they are covered, then he'll run. He has great vision of the field. If the Hogs don't do a good job on containment, even when they blitz, it will be a long night for the UA defense.
Of course, USF will run the spread offense with the no huddle. The Hogs will be forced to play with the same unit on the field and not substitute in mass like they were able to do last week. Conditioning will be a big key. The Hogs should hold up fine in this area, but it will be interesting to watch how the defensive backs stand up to extra running since USF runs a lot of deep routes and features a deep corps of wideouts. We won't be able to roll our DBs as much as they roll their WRs.
The Hogs will blitz Blackwell. We all know it's coming, and he knows it's coming. Blackwell will be forced to change plays at the line of scrimmage. Will he be able to do that effectively with the always present crowd noise of War Memorial Stadium. It's been noted in the press and radio this week, and I agree that crowd noise will be a key in this week's game, especially when USF operates near either goal line.
Will the Hogs be able to mash the Bulls' front seven. It's likely that the Hogs have a physical advantage with Shawn Andrews and Jason Peters. I'd think that USF has yet to see anything like those two monsters. I think a big key will be whether or not Arkansas can parlay that advantage into points on the scoreboard. I think thy Hogs can.
Matt Jones will get the bulk of the snaps against USF, but Houston Nutt and his staff would still like to get some looks at Tarvaris Jackson and Ryan Sorahan at quarterback. A key in the game will be whether or not Jackson and Sorahan can contribute some points. They couldn't last week against Boise State. If they can't, then the Hogs will have given away some key possessions in a game that might could turn into a scoring battle.
Can the Hogs avoid turnovers. It's likely that their pressure will produce some turnovers. In the opener, the Hogs had a 7-1 advantage in turnovers. I wonder if that's going to happen every week, or it was just a one game wonder. The turnover battle is crucial when you blitz as much as the Hogs blitzed last week. That will be a critical part of the game. The Hogs didn't win the statistical battle as far as total yards. It was a push. If you don't outgain the other team, and don't get turnovers, you are in for a dogfight. So, I'll be watching to see if the turnovers start to fall in the Hogs' favor. It may be the biggest key of the game, and of the season.
Can the Hogs avoid lost yardage plays while forcing the Bulls into bad plays. That was critical last week. The Hogs didn't have negative yardage, something that plagued them in the LSU and Oklahoma games to end the season. I'll be watching to see if the Hogs avoid those third and longs that always seemed to come up on the scoreboard in the final two games of last season. It will be a big key.
USF hasn't played many road games. They feasted on weak opposition playing in their home stadium last year during a successful conclusion that now has the Bulls riding an 8-game winning streak, among the nation's longest. Can the Bulls take that act on the road against a solid Division I team? That may be the key question of the day. I don't think they can, but that has yet to be played out.