Did USF win last week? I didn’t see them on TV on Saturday... Must have lost then, right? I have no idea. It’s like last weekend is over and now we have to move on to the next game or something...
Good. Because I’m not discussing what can’t be changed. On to Navy!
This week is all about beating the Midshipmen. The great athletes in sports have extremely short memories. So if USF wants to be a great team, they must have a short-term memory too. This means using this week to prepare to beat a very good team that comes to Tampa on Friday night.
After beating Houston and Memphis, and Houston losing two conference games, Navy comes to town with solid control of the AAC West. The Bulls have their backs against the wall, which means they are down to two options: listen to all the garbage they’ve heard since the last time they played and let the season get away from them. OR stop Navy’s reign of terror over the conference and show the world what kind of football team they are.
I pick the latter.
Let’s start by quickly talking about the Gulf Coast Offense. I’m going to go off of what I heard and assume everyone is healthy for this game. With that said, let’s let our speed show this week. I expect USF to take shots and attack the edge. The advantage we have over Navy is that our players run much better than theirs do. The Bulls need to show that to everyone Friday night.
On top of exploiting the speed difference between both teams, USF must keep the ball or score. No turnovers. No three and outs. The GCO going as fast as they do is definitely an advantage, but it can really hurt when they have the ball for less than a minute, which means the defense doesn’t get much time to recover.
Now, you all knew it was coming, so let’s address the elephant in the room: Navy runs an old school, triple option attack that has made them 4th nationally in rushing offense, and South Florida is 100th in rush defense. How will the Bulls ever manage to stop Navy’s potent run game?
The way to beat an option team is to be extremely disciplined. As a defense, you must account for the dive back, quarterback, and pitch back on literally every single down, because they are all equally likely to get the ball during any play. What I mean by “accounting” for each of those players is actually tackling them every time the ball is snapped. This may seem like an exaggeration, but I promise that it’s not. If you’re going to stop the triple option, all three “options” to carry the football must be stroked in the mouth every play of the entire game.
The most frustrating part of playing against an offense like Navy’s is that it never looks like they’re going anywhere until they score. They have a schedule, and whether they are on schedule or off schedule will determine their success as an offense, and ultimately as a team.
1st and 10. 2nd and 6. 3rd and 2. 1st and 10.
The Bullshark defense must play on the Midshipmen’s side of the ball and get the offense off schedule. Team’s that run the triple option are below average at throwing and catching, so 3rd and long plays are not likely to be converted. If USF can get off the field on 3rd down, it will be huge.
The other aspect of Navy’s offense that makes it so hard to compete against is that it’s their best defense. You look at some of the games they’ve played, and the opposing teams are only scoring in the 20s against them so you immediately think, “Their defense must be really good.” Well, not necessarily. The triple option focuses so heavily on running the ball that the clock never stops for an incomplete pass or play out of bounds. This is where USF’s offense can help the defense and avoid three-and-out series, because the defense may not get the GCO the ball back for another eight minutes.
So, being disciplined and getting Navy off schedule are a must for winning this game, but there is one issue that I haven’t touched on -- cut blocking.
A huge part of Navy’s triple option attack is their ability to cut block. Sure, the first players you think will be affected by cut blocking are the defensive lineman and linebackers being cut by the offensive line. But I promise they’ve been cut a few times throughout their football career and they know what’s coming and at least have an idea of how to handle it.
The real issue I’m talking about would be the Navy receivers cutting the USF defensive backs. It’s like all of the Midshipmen receivers are named Paul Bunyan, just chopping DBs down like trees!
Defensive backs never get cut by anyone. Never have since they started playing football. This is the only week that they will ever have an offensive player diving around their feet. It’s ridiculously hard to practice cutting 20 yards downfield, too, so preparing for it is almost all mental. Fullwood, Nichols, Hoggins, Childs, and the rest of the Bullshark secondary have to learn how to handle these blocks as the game goes on, and as good of football players as they are, I don’t see any reason why they won’t get it done this week.
Preparing for and playing against Navy is completely different from any other opponent USF has seen or will see all year long. After giving up 363 rushing yards to Temple last week, and everyone bashing the defense, it’s officially “nut-cutting” time for the Bulls. Their back’s are against the wall, and it’s time to see what USF is made of. Coach Taggart has said it a million times, “are you going to barbecue or mildew?” And I know he’s been saying that this entire week.
So, with a championship season essentially on the line, on our home field, the boys in green have to decide right now, who are you going to be?!
P.S.- For whatever reason, the USF marketing department has asked me to be the alumni football player that leads the team out of the tunnel this week. Let me go ahead and tell y’all, I’ve never been more excited to run out of a tunnel. I sat in my truck with a tear running down my face when I got asked to do this. I couldn’t say yes fast enough. I love USF and the fact that they thought of me to lead the team onto the field after I’ve left the program, means more than I could ever put into words. Thank you, South Florida, for letting me know I wasn’t flying solo this entire time.
I promise to be hype when I come out of the tunnel, but no way I could mention that without including the most epic lead onto a field ever.