Coming off a disappointing, mistake fueled loss to Cincinnati, USF (3-5, 2-2) enters the last quarter of the season trying to find a rhythm and enough momentum to accomplish their stated goal of becoming bowl eligible as a program for the first time since 2010.
Though showing flashes of success, inconsistency has been an issue for the young squad for the entire season. Win one game, lose the next two has been the pattern for the 2014 Bulls, and coach Willie Taggart has certainly noted their struggles. “This time of year, you expect to see more consistency than we’re seeing,” Taggart said when addressing the media Tuesday afternoon. “Getting to a bowl has been a goal from the start. It's just focusing on how we're going to get there. It's still about taking it a game at a time. We're not good enough to look ahead. The main focus is Houston.”
USF will indeed have several challenges ahead as they prepare for a Cougars team that is hitting their stride at the right time. Houston (4-3, 2-1) has a bit of momentum heading into Saturday’s matchup, coming off conference victories over Memphis and Temple. Part of this momentum began when the Cougars benched QB John O’Korn in favor of the dynamic Greg Ward Jr., who was receiving and returning kicks before getting the nod at starting QB. As DT Todd Chandler said on Tuesday, "He's a great athlete. He can make plays on the run. It's going to be a challenge for our defense to contain him. We're looking forward to it."
Certainly his play has provided a spark for a less than stellar Cougars offense. Ward Jr.’s efficient 29 for 33, 268 yard, 2 TD performance was a key factor in their win vs Temple and he, along with top receiver Deontay Greenberry and RB Kenneth Farrow will look for similar results against an up and down Bulls defense.
Yet, the notable aspect of Houston’s team has without a doubt been their disruptive defense ranked in the top 20 in the nation. Through a season and a half, Defensive Coordinator David Gibbs has tuned the Houston into a turnover creating machine, where the Cougars are 3rd in the nation in forced turnovers (14 INTs, 9 FUM) and 13th in turnover margin. The unit is anchored by senior LB Efrem Oliphant, who has 74 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 2 INTs on the year.
With Taggart re-opening the competition for starting QB this week and Andre Davis sitting out the first half for fighting in the fourth quarter of the Cincinnati game, a lot of pressure is on the USF offense to produce while limiting mistakes. Expect Marlon Mack and D’Earnest Johnson to play critical roles early on in the Bulls effort to notch their fourth win on the season. The game will be televised Saturday at 4 pm ET on ESPNEWS.