DT: When USF lost to Memphis earlier this month, it was the Bulls’ third straight loss and they were 1-3 for the season. Now the Bulls have put together a pair of wins over Syracuse and UConn and are at .500. Do you see the win over UConn being somewhat of a reset button for this season? And what has been the difference between that three-game skid and the past two weeks?
NS: In a year that many people viewed as bowl or bust for Willie Taggart and staff, the Syracuse and Connecticut games were absolute must wins, especially after starting at 1-3. Now sitting at .500, the second half is an entirely new season where they hope to build on the momentum they’ve suddenly gathered. What’s definitely helped over the past two weeks is Taggart has somewhat opened up the offense and has gotten more creative with the play calling, which has led to South Florida producing over 1,000 yards of total offense in the last two contests.
DT: Marlon Mack and Quinton Flowers have combined for over a thousand rushing yards this season and seven rushing touchdowns. One of SMU’s biggest weaknesses defensively has been its inability to stop the run. How do you see USF attacking the Mustangs suspect front seven?
NS: Even with a new spread base implemented this season, USF’s rushing attack is their bread and butter on offense, which includes a variety of different weapons on the ground that includes Mack, Flowers, D’Ernest Johnson, and Darius Tice. You can bet that Taggart and Co-offensive coordinator Danny Hope are devising ways to directly batter SMU's front seven and create opportunities for the their rushers to have big gains throughout the day.
DT: Speaking of Flowers, the last time SMU saw him he was making his first career start, on the road, and just days after his brother was killed in Miami. Now in the middle of the 2015 season and he’s having a pretty solid sophomore season. What kind of growth have you seen from him and what do expect to see from him the rest of this season?
NS: Quinton Flowers has come along nicely since being named the starter during spring camp. For the most part, he hasn’t committed too many mistakes as far as turnovers are concerned and has steadily improved throughout the season. As you mentioned before, his elusiveness and ability to make plays on the ground as well through the air is an extra element that defenders definitely have to keep an eye on. His arm accuracy still needs a lot of improvement, but as Taggart continues to open up the offense as he gets more comfortable week to week, you can expect more performances like his 259 yard outing against Syracuse in the future.
DT: It seems like teams have had more success passing the ball against this Bulls’ defense. SMU has a pretty big receiver in Courtland Sutton (6-4, 215). He had a lot of success early in the season and as a result has been drawing a lot of double-coverage. Do you see USF bringing help over the top to contain Sutton or will they go another route to slow down SMU’s offense?
NS: The one downside to USF’s switch to the 4-2-5 this season is that the scheme leaves a lot of space open over the middle, which lends itself to several passes being completed. The defense is giving up 8.1 yards per completed pass which ranks 102nd in the nation. I think they will bring Husky (Safety) Jamie Byrd to whatever side of the field Sutton is on to add an extra hand on each play.
DT: Probably even more important to SMU’s offense is quarterback Matt Davis—as he goes so does SMU. What kind of challenges does a dual-threat quarterback pose to this USF defense and what are some of the things the Bulls will do to limit his effectiveness?
NS: A dual-threat QB can pose problems to this particular defense if they are proficient through the air. However, the benefit to the aforementioned 4-2-5 is its design to utilize the natural speed to neutralize QB’s the weapons on offense that Matt Davis possesses and make plays around or behind the line of scrimmage. The surging defense had nine tackles for loss last week vs. Uconn, so it will be a matter of forcing the Mustangs into long passing situations throughout the contest.