Pounding the Rock
The “Three-Headed Monster” of Marlon Mack, Darius Tice and D’Ernest Johnson will be called upon again this week, as USF squares off with Northern Illinois this Saturday. The Husky defense was slashed for 243 yards on 56 attempts in their season opening, triple overtime loss to Wyoming. The hour and 43 minute weather delay at the beginning of the game could have factored into the Huskies’ poor run defense, but NIU head coach Rod Carey dismissed that thought in his weekly press conference.
With the status of junior running back Mack being available for Saturday’s game still in the air the Bulls will look to senior back Tice and junior back Johnson to fill whatever void may arise if Mack is ruled out for the matchup. The running backs have the full faith of their teammate and the man who will be clearing the way for them.
“Darius Tice can run you over and shake you off the field. When I see him get up the field, I already know that we’re about to hit for about 30 yards,” said senior offensive tackle Kofi Amichia at the weekly press conference. “D’Ernest, you can see all his preseason awards, he’s a pretty all-around guy. When he’s out there you can do anything; you can run, you can throw it to him, he can throw it himself…they’re definitely going to shine this week.”
Disrupt the Pass
The Huskies have a potent passing threat that consists of redshirt senior quarterback Drew Hare and redshirt senior wide receiver Kenny Golladay. If the Bulls are able to successfully remove these two weapons from the equation, it will greatly increase the chances of a USF victory.
The first factor is Golladay, who exploded for 226 total yards and three touchdowns in their season opener against Wyoming, 144 of those yards coming through the air. At 6-foot-4 and 213 pounds, Golladay outweighs 5-foot-10 junior cornerback Deatrick Nichols by 24 pounds, who will most likely be the primary coverage on Golladay. Defensive Coordinator Raymond Woodie emphasizes the importance of staying with the basic fundamentals and allowing technique to come before worrying about the scheme.
“Every week we’re going to play against really good players, we just got to be technique sound,” said Woodie about the defensive backs challenging Golladay. “At the end of the day if you don’t reroute, if you don’t do the scheme with the technique part of it, anybody can catch balls and run balls.”
The second weapon that the Bulls need to make a priority is the guy slinging the ball to Golladay. Hare made his first start since his 2015 season with an Achilles tear and appeared to be in fine form, tossing 329 yards for three touchdowns. Between his two seasons as the Huskies’ starting quarterback, Hare has averaged a completion percentage of 61.6 percent, totaling 32 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
While the Bulls' defensive line will do all that it can to break down Hare’s pocket, the responsibility will fall on the veteran defensive back squad to ensure that Hare doesn’t hit his targets.
“With the DBs really, we have to reroute. We got to knock them off their routes,” said Woodie about the defensive backs needing to take away Hare’s receivers. “If you let guys just run free quarterbacks will pick you apart, especially if they understand coverages.”
The Offensive Line Needs to Throw Their Weight Around
Junior quarterback Quinton Flowers’ ability to be a threat through the air and elusive on the ground is one of the reasons the “Gulf Coast” offense is as successful as it is. Flowers’ mobility is something that the Huskies are not familiar with defending and will look to close up any holes and seams that Flowers can slip through. It’s imperative that the offensive line doesn’t allow the Huskies to plug any of those holes.
“They’ve got a pretty quick d-line. They give a lot of effort and they don’t give up. It’s definitely going to be a tough game, so we’re going to have to bring our ‘A’ game,” said Amichia of the Husky defensive line. “They’re not that big, but they’re fast and they come with a lot of moves. If their first move doesn’t work, then they come with a second move.”
The offensive line will be switching out to keep bodies fresh, put will also be using that time in between exchanges to inform each other about the different techniques of the opposing linemen.
“We know that if another guy comes in the game, you just have to explain….we just alert him what’s good, if he wasn’t watching from the sideline,” said Amichia.
Take Advantage of Their Wide Receivers' Size
With the shortest of the Bulls’ starting receivers being 6-foot-1 senior dynamo Rodney Adams, the Bulls have an opportunity to use their size and speed to out play the Huskies down the field. Junior Marquez Valdes-Scantling made his on the team known, coming out of the season opener with three receptions for 79 yards, including a 51 yard bomb from Flowers that Valdes-Scantling hauled in for a touchdown.
“That was awesome,” said Bulls’ head coach Willie Taggart about Valdes-Scantling’s big play. “I want to see a lot of those throughout the year. We know he’s capable of doing that and a couple other guys on the team, but it was good to see that execution. We really feel like we can get a couple of those throughout the year. It just does so much for your team when you can score like that.”
The big body combo of Valdes-Scantling and sophomore tight end Elkanah Dillon to go along with Adams, will give Flowers multiple targets to look at down the field. Adams also gives the ability to use his speed going across the field as well as down, as he was used for the jet sweep for a few times for large chunks of yards.
If the Bulls’ offense can manage to become a true triple threat this weekend, they will keep the Husky defense guessing.
Let the Linebackers Loose on Another Star Back
Junior captain Auggie Sanchez racked up a team-leading seven tackles (tying with junior safety Tajee Fulwood) from the middle linebacker position. Fellow linebacker, senior Nigel Harris wasn’t far behind Sanchez with six total tackles, including a sack. The linebackers helped cap Towson’s two time 1000-yard rusher Darius Victor to only 70 yards on 23 attempts. This week they’ll be facing another star running back, senior Joel Bouagnon.
Last season Bouagnon totaled 1,285 yards rushing with 18 rushing touchdowns, enough to make him the 2015 First Team All-MAC running back. This past week though, Wyoming held Bouagnon to only 16 yards on 10 attempts.
NIU will most likely attempt to rush Bouagnon as well as redshirt junior running back Jordan Huff, mixing up the backfield to give the Bulls’ defense something different to look at. Expect to see both of them attempt to hit the holes and make their way past the Bulls’ linebackers, only to be stopped short by Sanchez or Harris.