First things first: congratulations to my boy Marlon Mack on becoming the all-time leading rusher in University of South Florida history! What took you so long, kid? You act like you’re only five games into your junior year or something... Should have taken all those offers to play safety, bro!
All kidding aside, Mack is an awesome guy that I have a ton of respect for. Even with him setting records and being a rising national star, he has never let the hype go to his head. He works hard day in and day out, and has earned every bit of success he has gotten and will continue to get. Here’s to you, Number Five.
It’s Homecoming Week for South Florida, and the Pirates of East Carolina are coming to Ray Jay. Coming off a solid 45-20 road win against Cincinnati, Bulls fans are feeling good. They’re feeling confident. USF is a 20-point favorite against ECU, and should cover that with ease... right?
Homecoming is only once a year, which means it presents issues, distractions, and challenges that are only dealt with once a year. As my dad, A.K.A. Coach Bench, has said since I was a young whippersnapper, “coaches hate Homecoming.” He must be right, because I’ve heard that same exact statement from every coach I’ve ever been around.
The reason coaches hate Homecoming is because of all the distractions that come with it that aren’t football related. USF’s official website literally describes this year’s homecoming as “a weeklong celebration.” Weeks like this are why Coach Taggart’s chin hair has gone grey in the past three-plus years (and maybe a little because of me. Sorry for the stress, Coach). Homecoming means parties, carnivals, pep rallies, concerts, comedy shows, and parades — all in the time span of your average work week. All of this fun stuff is for alumni and/or students, but sadly it is not for the football team. The only thing these events do is make the week unusual for the players. It draws focus away from proper preparation that you wouldn’t typically struggle with any other week of the season. The Bulls have to have laser focus this week, and lock in more than usual.
I’m going to go ahead and take a page out of the New England Patriots’ handbook for winning football games and say that Homecoming week for any school is about everyone doing their job. It’s the school’s job to make this week special and fun. It’s the students’ job and the alumni’s job to celebrate this week. And it’s the football team’s job to win. That’s it. That’s what this week boils down to every year.
As far as the USF football team doing their job and winning this game, it starts with having a great week of practice. I have no doubt that they’ve done that this week, so I’ll just move onto the Gulf Coast Offense instead.
The GCO needs to flex their muscles this week against an ECU defense that has struggled after their first two games of the season. Sure this means scoring as many points as possible, but what I want to see is them put solid drives together. I’m talking 10-12 play drives, getting chunks of yardage at a time, and wearing down a defense. Everyone in the country knows the Bulls have firepower, and are always a threat to score from anywhere on the field. What signifies a great offense though is their ability to take what the defense gives them. If the Pirates defense gives them the green light to unleash the La$er$how, then by all means let’s score 80-yard touchdowns all day. However, an offense really sends a message to everyone when it strings together good play after good play, over and over again, all the way to the end zone. Controlling the tempo of the game is a huge part of offensive football, and I expect to see that from my brothers in green this weekend.
As for the Bullshark defense, they will be facing a little different East Carolina offense than what we’re accustomed to seeing. In years past, ECU has run the “Air Raid” offense, the same scheme made famous by Washington State coach Mike Leach. What that old offense was all about was spreading guys out as much as possible, attacking space, and getting the ball to their skill players in said space (usually by throwing it a kajillion times a game).
This year, though, they have a new coaching staff and have changed things up a bit. Their new offensive coordinator, Tony Peterson, was at Louisiana Tech last year under previous USF coach Skip Holtz. Peterson coached seventh-round draft pick Jeff Driskel, who put up very good numbers in this system. Instead of going up against a Mike Leach Air Raid offense, the USF defense will be facing an offense that more resembles what the Bulls ran under Skip Holtz.
With all of that said, USF will need to be ready for two quarterbacks. ECU has given multiple guys plenty of playing time this season. They will go fast to try and catch the Bullsharks napping, but it’s nothing that they can’t handle. What the Bulls need to show this week is that they can tackle in space, which they’ve struggled with as of late. While the Pirates offense isn’t built around giving skill guys the ball in space, let’s not forget every single one of the players wearing a white jersey on Saturday were recruited to play in that “get guys in space” system.
I’m predicting a Bulls victory this week, but it all hinges on everyone doing their job. The GCO’s job, as always, is to score points and limit turnovers. The Bullsharks’ job, as always, is to tackle and force takeaways. The special teams’ job is to kick it well and cover those kicks even better. It’s the coaches’ jobs to keep the players focused and limit homecoming distractions throughout the week leading up to kickoff. And it’s the fans’ job, the alumni’s job, and the students’ job to cheer the Bulls on to victory. If everyone does what they’re supposed to, the tower on campus will be LIT... up green Saturday night.
P.S. Somebody let the guys at ESPN Radio in Fayetteville how the game goes. If you haven’t heard, 19 members of ECU’s band took a knee while playing the national anthem recently (protesting like Colin Kaepernick and others). Well, this particular ESPN radio station has decided to “protest the protest” and not cover the ECU/USF game this week. Now, in my not-so-humble opinion, this is complete nonsense. These guys need to take a note out of the Homecoming Week/Bill Belichick handbook and do their job. Their job descriptions consist of covering this football game, and to throw a hissy fit about a handful of college students kneeling (some knelt and still played their instruments) during the national anthem is ridiculous. The guys at South Park figured out how to fix the whole Star-Spangled Banner debacle, but nobody ever goes to them for the answers...
P.P.S. I’m dusting off my old USF student ID for homecoming this year. Mainly because my brother from another mother (and father but at least we’re both from Georgia) 2 Chainz is performing and I need it to get in free at the concert. So if anybody needs me Thursday night, you can catch me “pulling up to the scene with my ceiling missing.”