Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

Key Matchups to Watch for South Florida's Conference Opener Against Cincinnati

USF starts their conference schedule on the road in Cincinnati this week, and the Bulls will have their hands full going up against one of the top secondaries in the nation but will look to take advantage against the Bearcats’ mediocre rush defense.

Cincinnati's Secondary:

Cincinnati’s defense has become a force to be reckoned with in the AAC, leading the conference in turnovers with 13 and leading the nation with 10 interceptions. The team is just one turnover shy of matching their 2015 total and the improvement can be attributed to two different factors:

1.  Key pieces of this season’s defense were inexperienced last season, but now have a full season under their belt.

2.  The addition of defensive backs coach, Mike Gillhamer, who has nearly four decades of coaching experience. 

Gillhamer has spent 15 seasons coaching in the NFL, but had spent the previous four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts as their secondary coach; working with top NFL cornerback Vontae Davis. 

J.T. Smith of Bearcats Insider had this to say about the impact that Gillhamer has had with the Bearcats Secondary. 

“The Bearcats secondary was real bad last year and it’s turned a corner this year. This new secondary coach, Mike Gillhamer coming from the NFL, he’s really showed them techniques to locate the ball…they’re doing a way, way better job of locating the ball this year.”

The proof is there that the pass defense is much improved from last year and will cause USF junior quarterback Quinton Flowers fits on deep passes. Just like last week, every member of the opposing secondary stands at least six feet tall, a potential problem for the Bulls’ quarterback. 

Auggie Sanchez Is Going to Bully the Freshman

We still don’t have a definite answer as to who will start the game behind center for the Bearcats, but if they choose to hand the ball back to the redshirt freshman quarterback Ross Trail, there will be pressure. Junior linebacker Auggie Sanchez leads the Bulls in sacks with three and tackles with 40.

Sanchez is looking to cause as many problems for the young signal caller, after picking up a sack and a forced fumble in last week’s game against the Seminoles. The Bearcats have proven that they are less inclined to run the ball through, ranking 91st in rushing offense, and have an effective passing attack, even with Trail throwing the ball.

With Cincinnati’s commitment to the pass, Sanchez will be used in aggressive blitz packages to break through the pocket.

Marlon Mack Looks to Get Back on Track Against a Top Tackler

Bulls’ running back Marlon Mack had another pedestrian game against FSU last week, picking up 48 yards and a touchdown on 12 attempts. Mack would have probably picked up more yards if he hadn’t had to leave early after being poked in the eye, but was only averaging 3.5 per carry by the time he was pulled from the game. 

This week the Bulls’ bell cow running back will be squaring off against one of the leading tacklers in the nation, Bearcats’ senior linebacker Eric Wilson, who is tied for ninth in the nation with 42 tackles on the year. Cincy’s rushing defense has struggled this year, ranking 91st in the nation, but anyone who looks to gain yards on the ground will have to get past Wilson.

This should be a favorable matchup for the Bulls’ rushing attack who picked up 361 yards on 55 attempts last season; Mack picking up 106 yards and two touchdowns on 11 attempts. 


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