Offensive Numbers: 373 yards per game (135 rushing, 238 passing), 28 points per game
Defensive Numbers: 346 yards per game (33 rushing, 226 passing), 13 points per game
Record Against Auburn: First Meeting
2006 Record: 9-4 Overall, 4-3 Big East
44th Total Offense (361.6 ypg) 64th Scoring Offense (23.0 ppg) 25th Total Defense (298.4 ypg) 18th Scoring Defense (16.9 ppg)
Last season South Florida compiled a 9-4 record including a 4-3 record in the Big East. The Bulls finished the season on a very high note, upsetting West Virginia 24-19 and crushing East Carolina in the PapaJohns.com Bowl 24-7. This season marks the Bulls' eighth season South Florida has fielded a Division I football program, and in their short existence they have posted only one losing season out of seven. The Bulls inaugural season in college football began at the Division I-AA level in 1997.
Last time out
The Bulls opened the season with a 28-13 victory over the Elon Phoenix. Like Auburn in its season opener, South Florida failed to dominate an opponent it was heavily favored to defeat. The Bulls out gained the Phoenix in total yardage 375 to 261 yards but did not have the game in hand until the 3:04 mark of the third period. Quarterback Matt Grothe passed for 227 yards and two touchdowns and running back Mike Ford rushed for 83 yards on just six carries, scoring two rushing touchdowns and another on a reception.
Auburn's season opener was a defensive battle with only two combined offensive touchdowns between the Tigers and Kansas State. Auburn did not take the final lead until late in the fourth period, when Brandon Cox hit Gabe McKenzie on a three-yard play-action pass. The Auburn defense had a few breakdowns but played very well for the most part. Kansas State schemed well in their passing game with quick passes and a rolling pocket when Auburn came with the blitz.
About South Florida...
The Bulls are an up and coming Division I program, relatively new to the college game. Coach Jim Leavitt has been the only Bulls coach since 1997. He has compiled a 71-43 record, including a 51-30 record at the Division I level. During the past five years the Bulls have registered victories over 11-2 West Virginia in 2006 (24-19), 9-3 Louisville in 2005 (45-14), 9-4 Louisville in 2003 (31-28), 9-4 Memphis in 2003 (21-16) and 9-3 Bowling Green in 2002 (29-7).
The Bulls' offense is led by sophomore quarterback Matt Grothe (6-0, 211), who passed for 2576 yards and 15 touchdowns last season while completing nearly 64 percent of his passes. He also rushed for 662 yards and nine touchdowns establishing him as one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the country. Three of the Bulls' top four receivers return in 2007 in Taurus Johnson, Amarri Jackson and Marcus Edwards.
The South Florida running game is centered on Benjamin Williams (5-7, 190) and Mike Ford (6-2, 210). Williams is the returning starter from 2006 but Mike Ford is a star in the making. Coach Leavitt hopes to improve on last year's 144 yards per game on the ground. The Bulls gained 148 rushing against Elon in their season opener.
The Bulls' defense returns three of their six leading tacklers, linebacker Ben Moffitt, defensive end George Selvie and cornerback Trae Williams. Williams also led the Big East with seven interceptions in 2006. Selvie and linebacker Chris Robinson combined for 18 tackles behind the line in 2006, including 12 sacks. Overall the Bulls' defense finished in the top 25 in total defense and 18th in scoring defense last season.
Delbert Alvarado takes over the placekicking duties in 2007, where the Bulls struggled to connect on only seven of 15 field goals last season. Justin Teachey averaged only 38 yards per punt, dropping to 35.1 yards against Elon. Williams and Williams should handle the kick returns and Jackson will field punts for the Bulls.
Auburn will need more production out of King Dunlap and Ben Tate against South Florida.
Auburn entered the season with question marks on the offensive line and the wide receiver position. The offensive line struggled in the season opener against Kansas State and the wide receivers were the intended target on 70 percent of the 30 passes attempted against the Wildcats. Prechae Rodriguez hauled in all six passes thrown his way but Rod Smith caught only one of the nine passes thrown to him.
Brandon Cox was sacked five times in the season opener, which was reminiscent of the lack of protection he had during the 2006 season. Despite the number of hits Cox took against Kansas State, he still engineered the game-winning drive, completing five of six passes during the drive. Ben Tate carried most of the payload with 23 carries for 82 yards.
The defense did a terrific job keeping most everything in front of them while defending 58 pass attempts against the Wildcats. Kansas State went with a lot of three step drops and moved the pocket when Will Muschamp began to shuffle through his blitz packages. The Tiger defense came up with three forced turnovers and was two drops away of having four interceptions rather than two.
Wesley Byrum was three of four in field goals and Ryan Shoemaker averaged 42.7 yards on his six punts. Robert Dunn had some issues with fielding a couple of punts but he finally broke one for 57 yards, setting up an field goal. The Tigers certainly missed Tristan Davis and Brad Lester returning kickoffs.
There is no doubt Auburn will have to be far more consistent up front on the offensive line. The Tiger offense is built around the running game and putting Brandon Cox in too many third down situations is asking for trouble. Cox had a quarterback rating of 88.3 on third down, converting only three first downs on 12 called pass attempts. He was also sacked three times on third down.
For the offense to be more successful, Auburn must be more productive on first down. During the first half, five of Kansas State's 13 first down plays went for six yards or more. Only two of Auburn's 12 first down plays went for six yards or more. In fact, six of the plays went for three yards or less. For the game, only five of Auburn's 28 first down plays went for seven yards or more, while Kansas State produced on nine of 30.
Coach Hugh Nall stated the offensive line had a few breakdowns in week one but the effort was sound. The breakdowns can be repaired but you can't coach effort, which means there is light at the end of the tunnel for the offensive line. Al Borges intends to work Mario Fannin into the offensive equation this week, which could help spark a sputtering running game and a stagnant offense.
South Florida is still climbing the ladder to big-time college football and they are capable of bumping a few good teams off their rung. Auburn has yet to find its offensive identity since the Washington State game in 2006. The Bulls are the better offensive team right now and Auburn is the better defensive squad and playing at home. If the offensive line continues to struggle, this could be an upset in the making but Tommy Tuberville's recent track record in close games is one of the best in the country.
If the Auburn offense can muster more than 20 points this Saturday the Tigers should win. But 20 points could be a stretch based on the last four games dating back to the Georgia game in 2006. Take away the defensive touchdown scored against Kansas State and the Tigers have averaged 17.5 points per game since scoring only 15 against the Georgia Bulldogs.
Predicted Score: Auburn 20, South Florida 13