Game Preview 4: USF Hosts Undefeated Memphis

Justin Fuente and Paxton Lynch pay a visit to Raymond James Stadium as South Florida enters conference play for the first time this season.

Game 4: Memphis (4-0, 1-0) at South Florida (1-2, 0-0)

When/Where: Friday October 2 at 7 p.m. ET- Raymond James Stadium (Tampa, FL)


Radio: USF-IMG Network (820 AM)/

All-time series: Memphis leads 4-3

Last meeting: 2014. Memphis won 30-21 in Memphis.

Notable USF Stats:

-114th in passing yards per game (155.3).

-29th in rushing yards per game (221.3).

-RB D’Ernest Johnson leads Bulls in receiving with 10 receptions for 193 yards and 4 TDs. Has already set record for receiving TDs by a running back in a single season.

Notable Memphis Stats:

-8th in nation in total offense (570.25 yards per game).

-QB Paxton Lynch: 1,230 yards, 8 TDs, and 73.5% completion percentage through four games.

-Tigers defense have allowed 87 points over past two contests.

Week 3 Storylines:

USF heads into Friday night’s conference home opener vs. Memphis at a critical venture during their season. After a dismal 35-17 loss at Maryland two weeks ago (who in turn got shellacked by West Virginia), the difference between starting 2-2 with an AAC win and 1-3 while being 0-1 in conference is significant to USF’s flow and momentum heading into the second month of the season.

Offensively, miscues, dropped passes, and a lack of rhythm buried their chances in College Park just two weeks ago. Entering their fourth game, Willie Taggart and sophomore QB Quinton Flowers must find ways to introduce the Bulls receivers to the 2015 season and get them involved. Outside of running back D’Ernest Johnson unexpectedly becoming Flowers’ go to guy, the leading catcher amongst USF’s receiving crew is freshman Chris Barr, who only has five receptions for 35 yards. It would also help to feed Marlon Mack more. Mack only had twelve carries for 71 yards against Maryland and coach Taggart was emphatic in getting his star running back more involved in this week’s contest during his weekly press conference. “Twelve carries is not enough for Marlon. That was very disappointing. No matter how that game goes, he’s got to get more than twelve touches. That’s on me to make sure that he gets more than twelve and he will.” The urgency to get everyone going early is critical as Justin Fuente’s Memphis Tigers can put up major yardage and points almost at will.

The Opponent:

In the week leading up to this contest, it has been widely talked about how Memphis head coach Justin Fuente has become a prime candidate for a potential P5 job based on the work he’s accomplished in turning around Memphis’ program. The Tigers are coming off a successful ten win campaign in 2014 in which they captured a share of the AAC conference title. This season is no different as Fuente’s ballclub look to be threats as the one Group of Five team sent to a New Year’s Six bowl. The success of his Memphis counterpart is one Willie Taggart hopes he can duplicate in Tampa. "He believes in what he does and doesn't let anything else get in the way of what he's trying to accomplish there, and I think that's why he got it done," Taggart said when commenting on Fuente’s success. "He was patient. Even when it wasn't going well, he was patient and stuck with it, and now it's paying off for him."

A huge chunk of Fuente’s success comes on the back of dynamic playmaking quarterback Paxton Lynch, who is already making highlight reel plays in 2015. The college football world was in awe as junior Deltona native posted over 450 total yards of offense himself in leading Memphis to a thrilling 53-46 shootout victory over Cincinnati last Thursday night. Bulls safety Nate Godwin took notice of the prolific Tiger attack this week and described how the Bull Sharks are approaching this challenge. “I watched them play last week. They do a lot of misdirection and things to get your eyes moving. (Lynch) has a strong arm and does a lot of good things on offense. We look towards this game as an opportunity. When I watched them, I smiled. We’re built for games like this. They have a lot of juice right now with a lot of people talking about them and how they’re one of the top offenses in the nation. But we feel that we can keep up with them.”

Keys to Victory:

Offensively, as Flowers suggested during the press conference on Wednesday, the Bulls have to keep up by scoring on every possession. Memphis can accumulate scores of yards and points almost instantly and it is imperative for the USF offense to attempt to do the same. As mentioned before, that requires generating big plays through utilizing Rodney Adams and company in the receiving corps, giving Marlon Mack more touches, and mixing up the play calling beyond predictable bubble screens, a trend the Bulls fell into versus Maryland.

Defensively, Tom Allen’s guys understand and are familiar themselves with the ability of Memphis’ offense. Lynch went 18/23 for 232 passing yards and two TDs through the air, while also tacking on two touchdowns on the ground in their game last season. If the Bulls can keep the Tigers out of the red zone (where Memphis has a perfect red zone scoring percentage so far), they may have a shot to pull off the proverbial upset.

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