When/Where: Saturday November 7th at 7:30 p.m. ET- Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium (Greenville, NC)
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: USF-IMG Network (820 AM)/www.GoUSFBulls.com
All-time series: Two schools former Conference USA rivals. USF leads series 4-1.
Last Meeting: Last Year. Pirates won 28-17 in Tampa.
Notable USF Stats:
-Bulls seeking to reach five victories in a season for first time since 2011.
-USF rushing offense ranked 25th in nation with 205.7 yards per game. Had season low sixty-two at Navy last week.
-Deatrick Nichols hitting stride at corner. 7 tackles, forced fumble, and fumble recovery vs. Midshipmen last week. On playing near the line in 4-2-5 scheme: “It’s great. It’s like you’re unaccounted for, so when it’s time to make a play, they don’t even see you. And when they do see you, it’s too late for them to react.”
-Jamie Byrd becoming a force to be reckoned with in conference play. 32 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles in last three games.
Notable ECU Stats:
-Boasts a 67.1 completion percentage through the air on offense.
-Converting 44.8% of 3rd downs (18th in the nation).
-WR Isaiah Jones second in the AAC in receiving. 70 receptions, 786 yards, 3 TDs.
-DE Montese Overton second in conference in total sacks with 7.5.
Week 9 Storylines:
Rebounding from a 29-17 loss at Navy last week, Willie Taggart’s South Florida Bulls enter the month of November still well within reach of accomplishing their goals. Sitting at .500 in both overall and conference standings, USF is currently tied for second in the AAC East with their remaining four contests coming against divisional opponents. Coach Taggart and his team understands that at this juncture of the season, there is no margin for error if the Bulls want to compete in the inaugural conference championship game. “All of our goals are still right there will the rest of them Eastern division games, so there’s a sense of urgency about a lot of things. So much is on the line for us, especially the goals we set forth at the beginning of the year. We know that the only way we can get it is taking care of East Carolina first.”
A critical key to accomplishing those goals is ensuring that their starters remain healthy throughout the home stretch of the season. Various injuries to Quinton Flowers (thigh contusion), Marlon Mack (hamstring), and D’Ernest Johnson (knee) limited the Bulls signature ground attack to a season low sixty-two yards last week vs. Navy. Taggart indicated that all three playmakers were up to speed in practice this week and will be 100% when they take the field in Greenville. “All of those guys are ready to roll. All of them had a good week of practice, running around really well. I’m really happy with where we’re at from a health standpoint this time of year. We’re a lot better than we were last week.” The Bulls offense hope they can indeed get rolling against a stout Pirate front seven that is yielding 4.1 yards per rush.
Entering their final three games of the season, East Carolina is a team on the ropes, looking to finish the season strong and avoid missing a bowl for the first time since 2011. Sitting just a half game behind USF in the divisional standings, the Pirates have struggled offensively as of late, dropping three of their last four contests. However, Taggart knows what Ruffin McNeill’s ballclub is capable of and their ability to strike early and often. “They remind me a lot of our team – very athletic and they know how to win. They’ve played some tough teams and had some tough breaks throughout the season. It’s going to be a challenge.”
Offensively, ECU mirrors USF in their stable of weapons that can get rolling at any time. Juniors Blake Kemp and James Summers share duties at quarterback and will keep opposing defenses on their toes. Kemp serves as the passing QB approaching 2,000 yards on the season while Summers is the dual-threat specialist with 401 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. The offense also features senior rusher Chris Hairston, who has seven rushing touchdowns on the season and WR Isaiah Jones, who is second in the AAC in receiving. Taggart has certainly taken note. “We know they’re a dangerous group that can score really quickly. If they get hot, they can score.” Bull Sharks architect Tom Allen also described the task ahead for his aggressive defense. “They’re well coached, they run great routes, they know how to get open and they’ve done that for a long time. You have to pressure them, that's just how it goes, and you have to just confuse them."
Defensively, ECU runs a 3-4 scheme with a massive, yet quick defensive front. Part of that front is senior Greenville native Montese Overton, who is second in the AAC with 7.5 sacks. “They’ve got a very big defensive front, maybe the biggest group we’ve gone against size-wise,” co-offensive coordinator Danny Hope described during the week. “They roll and rotate their depth early and often, so they try to keep guys in there fresh. Leverage in the game is going to be important. We’ve emphasized it all week long.”
Keys to a USF victory:
The aforementioned leverage for the South Florida offensive line will be imperative as Brynjar Gudmunsson, Kofi Amichia, and the rest of the unit will have to attack the 3-4, force open running lanes, and give Marlon Mack and company the opportunity to resume their dominant rushing attacks.
For Allen’s defense, this matchup has the potential to present a situation for what the 4-2-5 was designed for, creating turnovers and confusion. East Carolina’s offense has thrown an interception in each of their last eight contests, including four last week at Uconn, so look for Deatrick Nichols, Jamie Byrd, and Nate Godwin to continue to cause disruption in the secondary as they face Isaiah Jones and friends.