When/Where: Saturday October 31st at 12 p.m. ET- Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (Annapolis, MD)
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: USF-IMG Network (820 AM)/www.GoUSFBulls.com
All-time series: First meeting
Notable USF Stats:
-Bulls looking for first four game winning streak since 2011 and first three game conference winning streak since 2010. Victory would eclipse last year’s win total.
-USF ranked 14th in the nation in rushing with 236 yards per game.
-Bull Shark defense ranked 9th in the nation in tackles for losses with 8.1 per game.
-Quinton Flowers coming off FBS season high 201 yards rushing by a QB.
Notable Navy Stats:
-Navy 6th in the nation in rushing averaging 301.7 yards per game. Runs the ball 85.80% of the time in triple option offense.
-Midshipmen rank 4th in FBS in turnover margin. 6th in the nation in 3rd down conversion rate (50%).
-Navy QB Keenan Reynolds: 636 yards rushing, 11 touchdowns. 2 touchdowns shy of tying Montee Ball’s FBS career touchdown mark at 77.
Week 8 Storylines:
As the leaves turn brown, the clocks get set back an hour, and the calendar flips to November, Willie Taggart’s South Florida team enters the next phase of the regular season having to play four consecutive conference games that will test their might. Having to play a gauntlet of games against Navy, Temple, East Carolina, and Cincinnati, Bulls fans will find out sooner or later if this surging squad can finish the season on fire with making a bowl game and/or competing for a conference title. Taggart certainly understands the challenge that awaits his Bulls, but is confident that his team has progressed enough to be up for it. “The progress that we’re making is exactly how it should be,” the coach said during his weekly press conference. ”Last year, we won the games that we were supposed to. That’s progress because the year before we didn’t do that. As you make that progress and get better, you start winning those games that you’re not supposed to win, where you’re not favored. Our guys are starting to do that now. It’s right on track.”
Senior guard Thor Jozwiak said on Wednesday that you couldn’t point to just one thing when it came to the progress and improvement of the offense. “It’s not just one factor. It’s a bunch of little things that we do and improve on everyday that’s gotten us to where we are. Obviously Quinton Flowers has improved significantly as a leader. I had a false start last game and he came over to me and said ‘c’mon Thor, we can’t have that.’ That’s something he wouldn’t have said last season or even at the beginning of this season. Him being a leader has translated to guys stepping up and making big plays.”
The play of the sophomore Flowers has indeed impacted the Bulls in a huge way. Flowers had a ridiculous 201 yard rushing, three touchdown performance vs. SMU last Saturday and is quickly rising as a notable name within the AAC. He suffered a thigh contusion at the end of that game on a highlight reel touchdown run where he was spun in the air, but he and the rest of the coaching staff have given every indication that he will play in Annapolis on Saturday.
The triple option is one of the most frustrating, despised methods of offense for opposing teams. If the precision of blocking schemes and timing is off, it can yield minimal results. But if executed to near perfection, it can be borderline unstoppable, which the Midshipmen of Navy fall into that exact category. Head coach Ken Niumatalolo, a Paul Johnson disciple, has continued to entrench Navy’s identity within the triple option through playing smart, disciplined, turnover free football.
Knowing this unique scheme, coach Taggart has had his defense preparing for it since spring practice and understands the challenge. “As a defense, when you have rules and responsibilities, you have to stay patient and stay locked in,” Taggart said. “That’s how they get you because they’ll keep doing it and keep doing it. That one time you lose focus and not do your job, that’s when they’ll hit you. They’ll get you really good.” Defensive coordinator Tom Allen also chimed in on the importance of staying aggressive. “We have to swarm like we’ve never swarmed before and can’t miss tackles.”
Understandably, the Bull Sharks swarming into the backfield is a must when you’re facing a team that runs the ball roughly 86% of the time on offense and ranks sixth in the nation in total rushing. This attack is led by senior Keenan Reynolds, who has executed the Midshipmen offense since he was a freshman. Reynolds has seen the end-zone eleven times on the ground this season and is two shy of tying Montee Ball’s FBS career touchdown mark. The Bull Sharks certainly look to prevent that from happening on their watch.
Keys to a USF victory:
This will be an arduous task for Jamie Byrd, Auggie Sanchez, and company to stop the Navy triple option. Only Notre Dame this season has been able to neutralize it, so we’ll see if Tom Allen and his guys can learn something from what the Irish were able to accomplish. With Navy also ranking fourth in the nation in turnover margin, the Bull Sharks will have to find ways to close into open gaps and create takeaways for themselves. Fortunately, with USF’s rush defense ranking 30th in FBS, this will be the most talented run defense the Midshipmen have faced all season.