The South Florida Bulls will once again be on primetime television this Friday when they host the Navy football program. This will be the second meeting between the two programs and the Bulls will be looking to get back on track after suffering their first conference loss last week to the Temple Owls. Last season the Bulls lost to the Midshipmen 29-17 while giving up over 400 rushing yards, allowing three different players to run for over 100 yards.
Navy can once again attribute their success to an offense that features the triple option out of the back field and is led by legs of their quarterback, Will Worth. The senior quarterback has made sure that his team hasn’t missed a beat after 2015 Heisman Trophy dark horse candidate Keenan Reynolds graduated. Worth has run for 489 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 81.5 yards on the ground per game; he has also completed 37 passes out of 62 attempts for 688 yards and five touchdowns.
“Will Worth, he’s worth talking about,” said USF head coach Willie Taggart during this week’s press conference. “He’s done an unbelievable job to come in and not expect to be the starter. To me it tells you what kind of kid he is, he’s always preparing himself for an opportunity…I think Will has taken advantage of it and they’re all playing off of him.”
The Midshipmen seem to have perfected the run offense in an era where spread sets and big arms rule the college landscape; crashing through the gatekeepers of the top 25 by defeating a playoff hopeful Houston team. Navy is now the only member of the AAC that remains ranked after Houston’s loss to SMU this past week, but their success is not only the result of one opportunistic quarterback.
The Navy football team features five different players that have run the ball for at least 100 yards, with two others holding at 97 rushing yards a piece. That is where the success of this Navy team comes from; an offense that will take any amount of yardage that it can and continue to grind away. It’s a style of play that will lull defenses to sleep, forcing them to sellout for the run and tossing the ball over their heads. It’s a style of play that eats up multiple minutes in each drive, effectively controlling the flow of the game.
“Their motto is ‘fall forward,’ they want to get positive yardage,” said Bulls’ linebacker Auggie Sanchez about the Navy offense. “If you don’t gang tackle, then they’ll probably do that because they are bigger guys. This will probably be the most physical game for us all year, because those guys play with so much passion and energy. You’ve got to match them, you’ve got to have a bunch of hats to the ball because they want to get positive yardage.”
While their impressive running game is what puts points on the board for the team, the Navy defense has managed to keep the offense within striking opportunity. The defensive unit is one of the better teams in the nation at stop the run, ranking in the top 25 for least amount of yards allowed. These numbers can be slightly deceitful though, seeing as how one of Navy’s games had to be postponed until later in the season due to flooding from Hurricane Matthew. The telling number is in the average allowed rushing yards per game (148), which ranks Navy lower on the list at 49.
Navy’s aerial defense falls victim to the same test, showing that they have only allowed 1,536 passing yards, but they are still surrendering an average of 256 yards per game through the air.
After last week’s loss to Temple, Sanchez admits that his team didn’t play with the energy that was needed to pull out a win. This week the defensive captain will look to make sure that his team opens up the throttle, regardless of the time on the field.
“We had no energy as a whole team, mostly defensively,” said Sanchez. “No energy, we didn’t play with passion and that’s on us. That’s on me as a leader to get that back, to have passion, to have energy to give it our all…I’ll go back to that game and put that one hundred percent on me. That’s my bad for not putting us in the right position…It just goes back to not having much energy and I put that on me. As a defense leader, as a defensive captain, if I don’t demand that out of our guys then we’re not going to do what we want to do.”
This is where the Bulls will have to try to take away clock management from the Midshipmen, keeping true to their quick strike offense. However, the Bulls offense will also have to consider their defense and the amount of time that Navy will try to keep them on the field. USF may want to slow down on the clock while controlling possession of the ball, allowing their defense to rest up.