I didn't do one of these last week because honestly, I didn't know a damn thing about Chattanooga that wasn't in the game notes. But every week, on the day before the game, I'll list the five most important things that USF will need to do in order to win their next football game.
Here's what the Bulls need to focus on in Reno tomorrow:
1. Balance out the offense. It will hurt if Marcus "Squirrel" Shaw isn't able to play, but between Demetris Murray, Willie Davis, Lindsey Lamar (if they need him), and even B.J. Daniels, USF has several players capable of running the ball. They need to get a running game going tomorrow. It will set up the pass, of course, but also because it will give the defense more time to rest before they go out to take on a Nevada offense that rarely struggles against anyone.
2. Keep everyone fresh. Many of you know the effects of altitude on people who are physically exerting themselves -- if you aren't conditioned to it, you run out of breath quickly, even if you're in good shape. Nevada uses this to their full advantage, and fortunately it's going to be almost 90 degrees at kickoff because it's even harder to breathe in cold weather. Ask any USF fan who went to the last International Bowl in Toronto.
I found this abstract of a scientific study which says athletes at sea level need 3-5 days to adjust to altitudes of 1500-2000m. (Reno is a little under 1500 meters above sea level.) Obviously the Bulls don't have that kind of time, so they have to adjust another way. Look for larger player rotations than usual, especially for the offensive and defensive linemen.
3. Stay in your lanes on defense. Because it's so hard to tell what kind of play the Wolf Pack will run before the snap, discipline is a factor. The Bulls have more lateral speed than most teams Nevada plays, so they should be able to slow down the option game. But they need to be ready for Cody Fajardo keeping the ball, straight runs, and being set up for big plays.
4. Get off the field on third down. Nevada moves the ball in a number of ways, and you don't often get them in third and long situations. 3rd and 4 is going to be a huge battle ground in this game. USF has to end drives.
5. Adjust to the altitude in the passing and kicking game. Footballs travel further at altitude, as anyone who's ever watched a game at Mile High Stadium knows. It extends Maikon Bonani's kicking range a few yards, it makes it tougher to pin Nevada in a hole with a punt, and most importantly, it's going to make B.J. Daniels' passes go further. Not like 20 yards further, but enough to maybe disrupt the timing on some of his passes. Considering USF will want to go after the relatively weak Nevada secondary down the field, getting this right in warmups is going to be important. And if it's 4th and 10 at, say, the Nevada 36, and Bonani is banging home 55-yarders in pregame, Skip Holtz is going to have a really interesting decision to make.