Rob Bridenstine

Key matchups between South Florida and UCF for the War on I-4

The Bulls enter the first official installment of the War on I-4 against their in-state rivals UCF, with major implications. A win against the Knights is the only way USF can stay eligible for the AAC championship, and a win today would mark their first 10-win season in program history.

The Bulls offense enters the game ranked seventh in the nation in both total and scoring offense, and rank sixth in rushing offense. Today’s game will more than likely come down to whether or not UCF’s 26th ranked scoring defense can help slow down Willie Taggart and the Bulls’ Gulf Coast offense. These are the top individual matchups in today’s game.

USF Wide Receiver Rodney Adams vs. UCF Cornerback Shaquill Griffin.

Rodney Adams has been nothing short of spectacular for the Bulls this season, hauling in 51 passes for 677 yards and five touchdowns. He’ll likely be shadowed by the Knights’ senior cornerback Shaquill Griffin. Quinton Flowers will need to be smart with the ball and Adams will need to be on top of his game if they want to fool Griffin. Griffin ranks seventh in the nation with 16 passes defended and has found his way to four interceptions on the season.

USF Quarterback Quinton Flowers vs. UCF Linebacker Shaquem Griffin.

It’s clear to anyone who has watched USF football this season that Quinton Flowers is about as good as anyone in the nation, not named Lamar Jackson, at escaping the pocket and not only extending plays, but also exploding downfield for huge chunks of yards. He’ll need to keep his head on a swivel when he lines up across from UCF’s junior linebacker, Shaquem Griffin. Griffin comes into the War on I-4 with 11 sacks, good enough for fifth in the nation, and is ranked eighth with 17 tackles-for-loss. Griffin will have his hands full trying to get to Flowers; however, he faces a Bulls team that’s only allowed 13 sacks on the season.

UCF Wide Receiver Tre’Quan Smith vs. USF Cornerback Deatrick Nichols.

UCF generally likes to run the ball, the problem being, they struggle running the ball often. If USF takes an early lead and forces UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton to throw the ball, Nichols will most likely be tasked with keeping Smith under control. Smith leads the Knights’ receivers with 47 receptions for 625 yards and three scores.

Nichols has been made some huge plays in the Bulls’ last two games against Memphis and SMU, recording an interception against Memphis, and snagging two more against the Mustangs last weekend in Dallas. Nichols’ second pick last week came with less than five minutes remaining and the Bulls’ backed up inside their own red zone, clinging to a one score lead.

UCF Run Game vs. USF Linebacker Auggie Sanchez.

UCF likes to shake it up in the run game, using a mix of three different running backs and some creativity with their quarterback, McKenzie Milton. USF’s junior middle linebacker Auggie Sanchez will again be tasked to lead the Bulls’ defensive unit and keep an eye on the backfield. In the Knights’ six wins this year, they’ve averaged 179.2 yards per game on the ground. However, in their five losses, they’ve averaged just 136.8 yards per game and that’s including a 275 yard rushing performance in their loss to Michigan.

If Sanchez and USF’s defensive line can bottle up the run game and allow the Bulls’ offense to take an early lead in the game, UCF could be forced to move to a more pass-heavy offense, where Milton has just nine passing touchdowns while throwing five interceptions.

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