You know what concerns me most about this game? It isn't really the matchups, because I think USF has most of them in their corner. It's the malaise. Remember last year, after the Bulls folded against the Gators and it took the fans weeks to recover mentally? I'm feeling the same thing after the loss in Pittsburgh. That could not have been a worse time for a bye week in regards to keeping the fan base engaged. Hopefully that lingering disinterest doesn't spread to the team. I don't think it will, though.
Here are your keys for the game on Saturday.
1. Exploit whoever takes the place of Blidi Wreh-Wilson at cornerback. I imagine the Bulls will try and get Sterling Griffin lined up on that player as much as possible and test them in a number of ways. UConn is definitely vulnerable against the pass -- remember Western Michigan's Alex Carder lit them up for 479 yards and five touchdowns a couple of weeks ago. As long as B.J. Daniels doesn't suddenly begin turning the ball over, he should have success against the Huskies secondary, especially with them missing their best defender.
2. Don't get beat on special teams. If there was one overarching reason for USF's loss to the Huskies last year, it was that UConn's special teams were decisively better. UConn consistently came out of exchanges of punts in better shape because Cole Wagner averaged almost 17 yards per punt more than Justin Brockhaus-Kann. Wagner also killed five punts inside the 20, sticking USF with bad field position all night long. Then you had Dave Teggart hitting two 50+ yard field goals, and Robbie Frey plowing his way down the field on kickoff returns to start the Huskies off right on offense. The Bulls cannot afford to give away chunks of yards because of inferior kicking/return games. That's how their talent advantage can be negated.
3. Run the ball in a way that keeps UConn off balance. The Huskies are only allowing 74.7 yards rushing per game, but that stat might be misleading because their last two opponents (Western Michigan and West Virginia) racked up over 900 yards passing. The Broncos didn't even bother trying to run the ball because it was so easy to throw it -- they only handed the ball to a running back 11 times and called at least 54 passes (the exact total is unclear without watching the game). And Vanderbilt ran the ball very well, but their quarterback Larry Smith gave back 80 rushing yards on sacks and other aborted plays.
The keys to USF's running game this year have been deception and tempo. Get the ball moving, get the next play run as fast as you can, make the defense think, and prosper. When the Bulls start running the ball for big chunks of yards, that's how they've been doing it -- getting the edges on option plays, and Daniels making the right read on zone runs. Lining up in the I-formation and smashing the ball up the middle against Kendall Reyes is probably not going to work.
4. Stay in your lane on defense -- literally. There were a lot of problems on defense against Pittsburgh, but losing assignments was probably the biggest one. The front seven had a hard time keeping track of where the ball was going, and that led to wandering, open running lanes, and missed tackles. Mark Snyder definitely noticed all of this:
The Bulls allowed a season-high point total in a 44-17 loss to the Panthers, and some of the unit's lack of discipline was a result of the inability to handle the adversity that came with being down in a game for the first time this season, Snyder said.
"I think guys started pressing a little bit and doing other people's jobs, and it snowballs," Snyder said. "Anytime you get something like that you have to settle down and regroup, and that's what we're working on this week...
"Our challenge to them is just grade a winner. You grade a winner. Do your job," Snyder said. "If we get eight or nine guys grading a winner we're going to win."
5. For God's sake, execute in the red zone. USF hasn't done very well scoring touchdowns inside the 20 (13 TDs in 24 attempts), and well... it's not like they have a real strong track record against UConn in this department. I'd like to watch one of these games without an ulcer forming, if that's all right with everyone.