Rob Bridenstine

Rob’s Ramblings: Where has South Florida’s defense gone?

The USF defense has struggled all season long and have really suffered while preventing the run. What happened to the impressive ‘Bull Shark’ defense and can it be fixed?

This week South Florida will be hosting their second ranked opponent of the season and in all honesty, it doesn’t look too good for the Bulls. The ‘Bull Shark’ defense isn’t nearly as intimidating as it was last season, when it only surrendered only 4,334 total yards. This year, the Bulls’ defense has already given up 3,581 yards with four games left in the season.

Last year the Bulls’ defense was able to hold opposing offenses to 1,687 rushing yards, averaging 140.6 yards on the ground per game. This season, they have allowed running backs to accumulate 1,650 yards on the ground —just 37 yards less than last season’s total— translating into a per game average of 206.3 yards. That is an extra 65.7 yards per game allowed on the ground and is on pace to total 2,475 yards for the season; almost 800 yards more than the 2015 season.  

These numbers have got to raise some eyebrows and cause some contemplative chin scratching when trying to figure out why this young team appears to have taken a step back defensively. The team returned seven of their top nine tacklers from the 2015 season and replaced the architect of the ‘Bull Shark’ defense, Tom Allen, internally with Raymond Woodie as defensive coordinator. So why are the numbers so bad? Head coach Willie Taggart would tell you that the problems are manageable.

“I know that our guys know why we lost that football game,” said Taggart during USF’s weekly press conference. “They’re going to learn from them, that’s the expectation. It’s not major, it’s being where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there. When it comes to tackling, you’ve got to want to do it.  You’ve got to want to put somebody on their backside, but it’s all correctable.”

Well we’re now into week nine of the season and this has been a consistent problem for the team. Let’s do a breakdown of the numbers so far this season. Out of the eight teams that the Bulls have played against so far, seven have run the ball for at least 100 yards. Not really a horrendous stat in reality, seeing as how only seven teams in the nation are averaging less than 100 yards rushing against (yes I’m even including Arizona State with a per game average of 99.9 yards). Consider this though, out of those seven games, five different running backs had career games against the Bulls defense. From that group of five, four rushed for over 100 yards and two of the four rushed for over 200 yards.

Last season, the Bulls only allowed five players to total over 100 rushing yards and three of those players were in the same game. This is where the problem lies for the Bulls though; those three players were on the Navy football roster, the team that USF will be hosting this Friday. In 2015, Navy was a top three rushing offense and is currently a top 20 rushing offense.

While the defense may have its issues, the offense has been able to mask most deficiencies on the opposite side of the ball with a quick strike offense and big play abilities. Thankfully for USF the team has been able to outscore the majority of their opponents by averaging over 42 points per game; an average that is good enough for 11th in the nation.

Even with the lack of effectiveness on defense, Taggart has emphasized that there will not be a change in the defense’s play caller, nor should there be. According to Taggart this may very well be the most physical match that USF has all season. It wouldn’t do the team any favors to bring in a different play caller, even if it was internally. Switching from Woodie to somebody else as the defensive coordinator at this point in the season would be a symbolic abandonment of the system and might as well be a forfeiture of the season.

The Bulls are 6-2 on the season with a 3-1 record in the AAC and share the top spot in the East with Temple. Yes, the Owls now hold the tiebreaker in the event of a tied record at the end of the season, but the Bulls’ season is far from over.  If USF can make the necessary adjustments, they could still find themselves in the conference championship, but the team cannot rely on a loss from Temple.

If the Bulls plan on making an appearance in the conference game, then they will have to do something about it. Taggart preaches it to his players day in and day out, not to “blame anyone or make any excuses,” and that it’s up to them to make it happen.

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