We've screwed around a bit this week, but let's actually talk about this game now. Here are our five keys to the game:
1. Shake off the Gator doldrums. I don't mean this as much for the players as I do for the fans. Either Skip Holtz is putting on the bravest face of all time to the media, or the players are in good spirits and ready to get back on the field this Saturday. But for the fans, it's like losing the Florida game sent everyone into a spiral of depression or something. The news basically ground to a halt during the bye week. We didn't have much to write about, and our site hits went in the toilet. I know Western Kentucky is not a high-profile opponent that will get everyone juiced up again, but dammit, we only get six or seven home football games a year, and it would be a shame to waste one of them because you were still bumming over what happened in Gainesville. Let's get fired up, people.
Besides, have you seen what a shambles our league is? USF actually has a shot at this thing if trends continue.
2. Contain, not necessarily stop, Bobby Rainey. Rainey already has 444 yards rushing, 5 touchdowns, and a 6.1 YPC. He is by far the Hilltoppers' best offensive weapon and he's going to get the ball a lot. He also runs back kicks. You can't prevent him from getting the ball altogether and he gets too many touches to shut down. But you can keep him fenced in. No big runs, stay in your gaps, and get him on the ground. This would be a good week for the defensive line, which has been light on tackles for loss so far this season, to get a few and force Western Kentucky to rely more on its weak passing game. They can definitely move some people on the offensive line because Rainey hasn't put up these big numbers against slouch opponents -- WKU's three games have been against Nebraska, Kentucky, and Indiana.
3. Get the front seven on track. USF only has two sacks so far this year, and one of those was by Jon Lejiste on a blitz. The six tackles for loss are a little on the low side, too. Granted the sack total is low because Stony Brook rolled their pocket so much, and because the Gators pretty much stopped throwing the ball in the second half. But the linemen and linebackers need to be more disruptive if they can. You have to figure Western Kentucky will try and shorten the game with their talent disadvantage, and although the Hilltoppers have a surprisingly strong offensive line, the way to keep them from controlling the clock and giving themselves a chance to win is to get TFLs and harass the quarterback. Force them into long-yardage conversions, which also gets the clock to stop more often.
4. Find someone else for B.J. Daniels to rely on in the passing game. I would not count on Dontavia Bogan playing a whole lot this weekend, if he even plays at all. He's still gimpy from the sprained ankle he suffered in Gainesville, and on paper this doesn't look like a game where the starters will have to go the whole way. The more you can hold him out, the better. But that means Daniels has to build some chemistry with guys like Evan Landi, Stephen Bravo-Brown, his tight ends, or someone. I know A.J. Love and Sterling Griffin are coming back eventually, but it would be good for Daniels to be used to throwing to the other guys as if they weren't. That chemistry was clearly lacking against Florida. Yes, it was a bad matchup against the Gators' extremely skilled secondary, but Daniels still resorted to Superman mode partly because he didn't feel comfortable with the receivers he had available to him.
5. For God's sake, don't embarrass the Big East any more. Taggart's going to have his team ready to roll, but don't let these guys hang around if you can help it. They've lost 23 in a row. As awful as it would be for USF to actually lose this game, it would be yet another punch to the gut for the whole conference. I know this isn't a marquee matchup like West Virginia at LSU, or Cincinnati hosting Oklahoma, or even Rutgers hosting whoever on North Carolina is still eligible, but just take care of business and move on to next week.
Anyway, I don't like predicting our own games (just wait and see -- I don't think I'm going to pick a USF game in Protect Your Unit all year). But what do you all think will happen? Let's hear your predictions.