TSX Inside Slant Preview: USF vs. Syracuse

When USF hosts Syracuse this week something's got to give. The Bulls lead the league in pass efficiency defense and Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib leads the Big East in pass efficiency. The Sports Xchange gives its inside slant on the Bulls vs. the Orange match-up.

INSIDE SLANT

USF is having problems converting third downs into first downs, ranking last in the Big East and only 114th out of 120 FBS teams nationally with its meager 30 percent success rate.

Out of 37 third-down opportunities, they have gained the necessary yards for a new set of downs only 11 times.

"It goes back a little bit more to that passing game," Coach Skip Holtz said as the Bulls began preparing for their conference opener against Syracuse. "When we're in the drop-back passing game, that has been our weakness with our wide receivers and a quarterback who right now is much more successful athletically running some of the things he is doing and running the offense."

The Bulls converted only one first down on eight third-down situations in their 31-3 victory over Florida Atlantic, even though quarterback B.J. Daniels completed 14 of 19 passes.

"He was very efficient in the play-action passing game a week ago when we were getting him on the edge and giving him space to where he could throw it," Holtz said. "But on third downs, with what they did, we had a couple of opportunities and missed them.

"They put a pressure package together on third down which was very efficient, which I'm sure that Syracuse is going to look at. We may get it first, second and third down when you look at Syracuse this week and how aggressive they are."

Defensively, Syracuse is holding its four opponents to just a 32.8 percent success rate on third down, which ranks fifth in the Big East.

The game is the final of a three-game home stretch for the Bulls, who have won three of four non-conference games to start the season.

They are on the road for two after that with trips to West Virginia for a Thursday night affair and to Cincinnati for a Friday night game.

Their next home game is a Wednesday night contest against Rutgers on Nov. 3.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Something's got to give when USF is host to Syracuse. The Bulls lead the league in pass efficiency defense and Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib leads the Big East in pass efficiency. The Bulls have allowed just 161.5 yards to opposing passers. Nassib, who has nine touchdown passes, is averaging 215 yards a game throwing.

--RB Demetris Murray, who missed the game against Florida Atlantic while nursing an ankle injury, continues to lead the Bulls in rushing with 232 yards, one more than senior RB Moise Plancher.

--USF has had some success defensively against Syracuse. The Bulls have never allowed more than 20 points in any meeting against the Orange.

SERIES HISTORY: USF leads Syracuse 5-0 (last meeting, 2009, 34-20 USF).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: USF has emphasized the running game recently and as a result is throwing for only 170.2 ypg. That's more than 26 yards under their average in rushing the football. With more selective throwing, QB B.J. Daniels, who usually hovers around the 50 percent mark, has completed 70 percent of his passes (21-of-30) for the last two games with only one interception. The return of senior WR Dontavia Bogan from injury lifts the passing game.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Bulls are holding opponents to under 300 yards a game total offense, but that figured is skewed by the weak competition (Stony Brook, Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic). Florida hit the Bulls for 423 yards, including 251 on the ground. The Bulls did get their sack attack going with a school record-tying seven sacks in the win over Florida Atlantic. SS Jon Lejiste has three sacks for the season to lead the team.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't think who loses it is out of the race. It is the first game. I'll go back to what I said before. How we respond to this game, win or loss, is going to be more important than the game itself. Now, given my druthers, I'd much rather be responding to a win than a loss after this week." -- Coach Skip Holtz, on the importance of the conference opener against Syracuse.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Syracuse at USF, Oct. 9 -- The Bulls get into Big East play for the first time when the Orange visits. Syracuse is coming off an open date and comes to Tampa riding a two-game winning streak over a pair of FCS teams in Maine and Colgate. The other Orange win came over Akron, and the loss was at Washington.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Avoid turnovers. That's pretty much always a key in any game, but it is particularly important for QB B.J. Daniels to avoid throwing an interception that could give the Orange a boost in confidence. The USF secondary needs to challenge Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib, the Big East's leader in pass efficiency.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

WR Dontavia Bogan -- Bogan missed the game against Western Kentucky because of an ankle injury but showed no ill effects from the injury in his return. He had five receptions for 66 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown catch on the second play of the second half.

SS Jon Lejiste -- Lejiste leads the Bulls in sacks with three among his 12 tackles. He also has broken up two passes and forced two fumbles from his position in the secondary.

RB Moise Plancher -- A senior, Plancher had 93 yards rushing against FAU to raise his season total to 231. A workhorse, he has 50 carries on the season and has rushed for four touchdowns.

ROSTER REPORT:

--RB Demetris Murray (ankle) sat out the win over Florida Atlantic as a precaution.

--WR Sterling Griffin (ankle) could make his season debut against Syracuse. He was injured during offseason workouts and has not played this season but is expected to play against Syracuse.

--S Jerrell Young (ankle) left the game in the first half against FAU. His status will be determined closer to game time but it is likely he will play.

--PK Maikon Bonani looks to have an edge over PK Eric Schwartz for field goal duty. Coach Skip Holtz told the Tampa Tribune he liked the way Bonani kicked the ball against FAU.


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