USF will be traveling to Cincinnati as the Bulls come into their conference schedule a little battered and disheartened after suffering their first loss of the season to Florida State. The Bulls are looking to improve on their 3-1 season by picking up a win against the Bearcats in enemy territory this weekend. Historically the Bulls haven’t had much luck in Cincinnati, failing to win at Nippert Stadium a total of five times in the six meetings they’ve visited the Bearcats; the only win being in 2010 during the Skip Holtz era. The Bulls will look to remind the Bearcats of last season’s meeting at Raymond James Stadium, when the Bulls throttled Cincy 65-27 after taking a 51-3 lead in the first half.
“We better come motivated. We’ve got another game, we’ve got another opportunity. We can’t wait to play again after last week,” said head coach Willie Taggart. “That’s the thing that sucks when you lose; you want to get back out and go. Our guys are going to be highly motivated, it’s a conference game. Our guys want to do something that has never been done here before. If that’s the case, we better be motivated every single day from this point on…we came close last year, but we weren’t good enough.”
Last year the Bearcats were selected to take the AAC East in the preseason, but did not live up to expectations after finishing conference play with a 4-4 record. This year Cincinnati was picked to finish second behind USF in the East and wants to show the Bulls that last year’s loss does not define them as a program and prove that they should not be counted out of the race.
The Bearcats started their conference play in week three, losing 40-16 to conference favorite and sixth ranked Houston. Even with their conference loss, the Bearcats have maintained a 3-1 overall record and are led by one of the top turnover defenses in the nation. The Bearcats lead the nation in interceptions with 10 on the year and has also forced three fumbles against their opponents after only 14 turnovers in all of 2015. Cincinnati has also shown that they can apply pressure this season, sacking opposing quarterbacks 11 times, only two less than the 13 they totaled last year.
“I look at their defense and they’re fast, athletic and they can run around,” said Taggart about the Cincinnati defense. “It’s going to be a challenge. I think their defensive line is very active. It’s going to be a challenge, but we’ve got to be locked in to play our very best ball game. I’ve always said that I think our best is good enough, we’ve got make sure we’re locked in to play our very best.”
While the Bearcats’ defense has led the way for the team up to this point, their offense has struggled to find the end zone, averaging only 27 points per game. Cincinnati’s starting sophomore quarterback Hayden Moore was injured in the week three matchup against Houston, forcing the Bearcats to look to redshirt freshman quarterback Ross Trail to start under center in week four. If the Bearcats choose to go to the young quarterback again, expect the Bulls to intimidate and bully Trail like they did last season to Moore in his freshman season when he turned the ball over three times in the first half.
The Bulls’ are going to stay steadfast in their commitment to the ‘Gulf Coast’ offense and continue to run the ball, even with the loss of senior running back Darius Tice for the season. Junior bell cow running back Marlon Mack is back to 100 percent after being jabbed in the eye during last week’s contest against FSU, but both junior running back D’Ernest Johnson and junior quarterback Quinton Flowers were able to cut through the opposing defense for big gains in the second half of the game. The three-headed monster may be no more, but the one-two punch of Mack and Johnson is still a potent running game, especially when you include the athleticism of Flowers and how much they like to use senior wide receiver Rodney Adams in the jet sweep.
The Bulls’ high powered offense will also look to bring in their big target receiver, junior Marquez Valdes-Scantling, back into the fold after Scantling failed to tally a single reception against the Seminoles defense. His speed and size will be utilized on deep targets as long as Flowers and company can keep the defense guessing and pull what will likely be double coverage off of Scantling.
If the Bulls are able to get their defense to stick to the fundamentals of the 'Bull Shark' scheme and pressure the young quarterback, then they will see the fruits of their labor produce itself in the form of scoring drives by the offense.null