Five Key Pieces to a South Florida Victory Over Florida State

The Seminoles are coming to Tampa looking to inflict pain on any team that is in front of them after last week's embarrassing 63-20 loss to Louisville. With ESPN giving FSU a five-point edge to win the week four matchup, USF will have plenty to do on both sides of the field in order to get their marquee win.

They've Got to Stop Number Four

It may seem obvious or a bit like overkill by this point, but it is imperative that USF stops Seminoles' running back Dalvin Cook. The junior back not only imprinted his 266-yard and three-touchdown game in the minds of USF defenders, but also immortalized himself in FSU history with the second largest yardage total in a single game.

Cook was a preseason Heisman candidate for many, but has not managed to follow up his stellar 2015 performance up to this point; averaging only 4.6 yards per carry after averaging 7.4 yard per carry last season. USF head coach Willie Taggart knows that Cook still has the ability to make defenses plan around him.

“You got to tackle him, gang tackle and hold on for your teammates to come. He’s a great back and you got to get guys to the ball and hold on for dear life, because he’s a great back that can break tackles,” said Taggart about game planning for Cook.

“He’s still Dalvin. He hasn’t changed much and I think he gained a little weight, but he’s still Dalvin. He can run well and go the distance if he has to and we have to do a good job of tackling and play great defense.”

Cook will get his groove back at some point this season, he’s got the talent and system to do it, but the Bulls need to make sure that it’s not this week in their house.

Marlon Mack Needs to Be Better Than He Was in Last Year's Game

In last season’s game, junior running back Marlon Mack rushed for only 83 yards on 18 attempts. The Bulls will need their two-time 1,000-yard running back to better than he did in last season’s match. Mack is currently averaging 9.6 yards per carry, but his total number of rushing attempts for the 2016 season is 18, matching his total number of attempts in last season’s game against FSU. 

The ‘Gulf Coast’ offense relies on a potent running game to setup the pass for big chunks of yards and quick scoring drives. Last year, the Bulls were not able to establish their offense the way they wanted to, leading to less opportunities to strike and more time on the field for a defense that was already less than 100 percent without linebacker Nigel Harris.

After the ejection of fellow linebacker Auggie Sanchez, the Bulls’ defense was left prone attack. 

None of this rests solely on the shoulders of Mack; it was a team failure and it will be a team success if they win, but Mack is a playmaker that the Bulls will need in this game to help control the ball and clock.

Mack is also only 136 yards short of the USF career rushing record (2,731), so expect that extra incentive to push him through the game.

The Offensive Line Needs to Win the Battle in the Trenches

Quarterback Quintin Flowers was sacked by the Seminoles three times last season while only completing 12-of-24 passes for 125 yards. Flowers has had a year at the helm of the Bulls’ offense and has thrived in the ‘Gulf Coast’ offense, breaking multiple school records in the past season.

The offensive line has held their own up to this point in the season, only allowing Flowers to be sacked twice in the first three games. This game will push the line to its breaking point, as they will be lining up against a defensive line that Taggart describes as the best defensive line in the AAC.

“Go play football, go be physical, and go out and block and win the one-on-one battles, said Taggart about what his offensive line needs to do in the trenches. “A lot of the guys want to play in the NFL one day. That’s what it’s going to take, you’ll be playing against some NFL players this weekend.

"It’s a great opportunity for them to show that they can play with them…just got to go out and play football and not think it’s any harder than it is."

Utilize Your Former Track Stars

Senior wide receiver Rodney Adams and junior wide receiver transfer Marquez Valdes-Scantling were high school teammates at Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg, and both were track stars in high school. In fact, the duo helped Lakewood win the 4x400 relay for at the 2012 state championship, and then went on to compete at the 2013 Class 2A State Track and Field Championship.

The Bulls will need to utilize that speed to break away from a secondary that features five starting defensive backs that are all at least six-feet tall. Expect to see Adams’ speed on display again as the Bulls will most likely look to him on the jet sweep, a favorite play in the ‘Gulf Coast’ offense.

Valdes-Scantling will most likely be bumping up against the 6-foot-2 sophomore cornerback, Tarvarus McFadden, who is leading FSU in passes intercepted and passes defended with two and three respectively. 

The Defense Will Need to Make Its Weekly Goal for Turnovers

The USF defense has made it their personal goal to force opposing offenses to turn the ball over by force. It was a point of pride for them to be ranked nationally in the category, so they want to make sure to maintain the pressure with at least three turnovers every game. So far they have met that quota, except for week two when the held Northern Illinois starting quarterback Drew Hare to only 96 yards passing, but not a single turnover.

The Bulls’ defense will need to meet their weekly goal in order to give their offense more time on the field and longer possession of the ball, something they lacked in last year’s game. Expect to see redshirt freshman quarterback Deondre Francois target junior wide receiver Travis Rudolph, who leads the team in receptions, and redshirt sophomore tight end Ryan Izzo, a big-bodied option for the young quarterback to safely get the ball to.

If the Bulls manage to disrupt the pass and force turnovers, the inexperienced quarterback will have to rely on dump-offs and screens, or break out of the pocket with his legs, where Sanchez and Harris will be waiting for him.

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