Know Your Foe: South Florida

In its final nonconference game, No.19 Wisconsin faces a South Florida team in rebuilding mode, but a squad with a lot of young talent in place. Badger Nation gets the inside scoop on this week's opponent from USFNation beat writer Nick Simon.

1, After going 2-10 last season, USF has already equaled that win total through four games. What has been the big change in and around the program in the second year under Willie Taggert?

Simon: Obviously with it being year two of the Taggart era here in Tampa, the players have a better grasp of what is to be expected from his system. While the results haven’t necessarily translated to the field just yet, we’re starting to see glimpses and flashes from the younger players of how good they can potentially be.

2, What have you learned about USF after playing four straight home games to start the season – two against power five conference schools and winning the conference opener last week vs. Connecticut?

Simon: While the team has shown signs of improvement over the 2-10 result from last year, they still have a long way to go before they can realistically start competing for bowl eligibility and conference titles, which Willie Taggart hopes to accomplish in his time at USF.

3, Freshman Marlon Mack has a 100-yard game and a 200-yard game under his belt. How dynamic of a weapon has he been for the Bulls?

Simon: Mack has been the workhorse so far for offensive coordinator Paul Wulff’s offense. Obviously his breakout performance vs. Western Carolina got people hyped about the kid, but his play against UConn last Friday really set the tempo for the game and led to a USF victory. It’s an early testament to the talent Taggart is starting to bring in and develop.

4, It appears USF has used two quarterbacks through four games. How are the Bulls utilizing their two quarterbacks and what have been the strengths and weaknesses of the QB spot?

Simon: Starting quarterback Mike White has been battling a fractured left forearm injury in the past few weeks, which has led to Steven Bench getting reps as starter, but you could expect White to start this Saturday. As for QB play itself, the less-than-stellar offensive line play so far has hampered the Bulls’ ability to really establish a rhythm in games. If White can get enough time under center without pressure, he and his receiving core definitely have the capability to make plays downfield.

5, USF is giving up 29.5 points per game which currently ranks 93rd in the country. What has been the area of weakness for the defense through four games?

Simon: I think area of weakness for this defense comes with leaning the scheme. The defense just switched to a 3-4 base this season, so what you’re seeing is the players, particularly the secondary, still adjusting to defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan’s new set.

6, USF limited Connecticut to only 57 rushing yards last week against the Huskies. Can they execute the same game plan against the Badgers, who set a Big Ten record for rushing yards last week?

Simon: The key to the UConn game was making the Huskies completely one dimensional. Keep in mind, with a torrential downpour bearing down on Raymond James Stadium Friday night, the Huskies had no choice but to take the ball out of Chandler Whitmer’s hands and run it for the entire game. Obviously stopping Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement is an entirely different beast in itself, but if they can execute something similar and force Tanner McEvoy to beat them through the air, they’ll have a better shot at victory.

7, Who have emerged as the standout players on defense?

Simon: Four guys in particular have really stood out. Junior defensive back Jamie Byrd, who transferred here in the offseason, has made an immediate impact as he leads the team in tackles. Meanwhile, linebackerss Reshard Cliett, Nigel Harris, and Auggie Sanchez have all stepped up and made big plays for the defense and will continue to improve as the season moves forward.

8, What areas of Wisconsin do you expect will give South Florida trouble? Where do you think the Bulls have the edge over the Badgers?

Simon: When you’re facing a record-setting rushing attack that features a running back who may be in New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony at the end of the year, you’re most certainly going to have troubles containing that defensively. While the defense has given up their fair share of yards, they’ve been excellent at forcing turnovers. If they’re able to do that and capitalize on those opportunities, they’ll have a shot at making it a close ball game.

9, What is the one thing South Florida needs to do well in order to win Saturday?

Simon: USF MUST be able to establish a tempo and set the pace of the game offensively, which is a tall order in a rabid, hostile environment. If Mike White can’t get the offense in gear early on, it will be a very long day for the Bulls.

10, What’s your unbiased prediction for the game?

Simon: I’m not expecting too much from this Bulls team heading into Madison. This is a very young football team going on the road for the first time this year against a quality top 25 team. I can’t necessarily predict a score, but it definitely has the potential to get ugly and out of hand in the second quarter, similar to the Badgers game against last week. But if USF is able to establish themselves early on and limit mistakes, they could potentially make a competitive game out of it and build momentum heading into AAC play, which I think is all Taggart can ask for from his squad at this point.


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