Rob Bridenstine

Here are the key matchups in South Florida’s game against Connecticut

If the Bulls want to pick up their fifth straight win against the Huskies, then they will need to key in on these matchups. If they can establish the rushing attack against this vaunted running defense, then they should be able to match their best start in program history.

The USF secondary covering Noel Thomas

This week the Bulls’ secondary will be facing a top 10 receiver for the fourth time this season when Noel Thomas visits Tampa. The senior wide receiver is fourth in the nation in receptions with 55 and ninth in the nation in receiving yards with 631.

The previous three receivers combined for a total of 311 yards on 30 receptions, but the Bulls were able to hold the top receivers to just one combined touchdown. This goes to show that the USF secondary has the ability to keep receivers out of the end zone.

With junior cornerback Deatrick Nichols leading the team in pass breakups and having spent time covering the previous receivers, it’s feasible to believe that he’ll be covering Thomas. Even if Nichols isn’t covering UConn’s top receiving option, he has confidence in the rest of his secondary squad.

“How the game flows around, it doesn’t matter,” said Nichols about coverage on Thomas. “I like any of my corners or safeties to cover the guy, because we all get the job done…as a defensive back, we all believe in each other.”

Bryant Shirreffs and Auggie Sanchez

Junior linebacker Auggie Sanchez is once again leading the Bulls in tackles, but the defensive captain will have to keep an extra eye on the UConn’s redshirt junior quarterback Bryant Shirreffs has rushed for 345 yards, but has been tackled for a loss of 94 yards. The loss of yards can mostly be accounted for by the sacks against him, but doesn’t take away from his ability to work his way out of the pocket if he feels pressure.

It will be on Sanchez to recognize when Shirreffs attempt to break out, so expect to see him in some QB spy formations. Last year Shirreffs made minced meat out of the Bulls defense, throwing for 365 yards and a touchdown while also picking up another 100 yards and touchdown on the ground. With only one true receiving target and a running game that ranks second in the conference, expect Shirreffs to try and make something happen.

Marlon Mack against UConn’s 11th ranked rushing defense

Every time that Marlon Mack picks up positive yards while wearing a Bulls’ uniform, it is a new record. Even if Mack only picks up one yard it’s a new record and if Connecticut has their way, that is all they will give him.

The Huskie defense held Cincinnati’s offense to only two rushing yards last week; the same rushing offense that managed to pick up 157 yards against USF. That’s not to say that the Bulls’ defense is the gold standard, but it is a baseline example to go off of.

Mack is only 93 yards away from breaking the 3,000 yard career rushing barrier. He will attempt to follow up last year’s 113 yard performance to cross that threshold. Head coach Willie Taggart will use Mack and the Flowers’ mobility to establish the running game.

Rodney Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling will burn the Huskie secondary

Flowers and senior wide receiver Rodney Adams have gotten into their grove, with Adams leading the rest of the receivers in yards and receptions. In the last three games, Adams pulled in 14 receptions for 263 yards and two touchdowns. Junior wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling on the other hand, has only managed 39 yards on four receptions in that same time and hasn’t scored a touchdown since week one.

In a game where the Bulls will be going up against one of the worst pass defenses in the nation, expect Flowers to showcase his arm. With Flowers throwing the ball, expect him to hit his two favorite targets often. A game like this will give Valdes-Scantling the opportunity to get out of his funk by using his breakaway speed and height to get back in the end zone. 

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