South Florida defeated East Carolina 38-22 on Saturday for Homecoming and well, it easily takes the banner for weirdest victory of the season so far.
The Gulf Coast Offense, a legit top-ten unit in FBS, hit its usual mark to ultimately put Scottie Montgomery’s visiting Pirates away. However, the combination of giving up 168 yards to a poor ECU rushing attack, 101 yards in penalties, and a dismal Homecoming crowd (which we’re not even close to finished addressing) really threw the vibe of this game off. Collin summed it up best:
BREAKING: USF plays mediocre, wins anyway.— Collin Sherwin (@USFCollin) October 8, 2016
Throw in Willie Taggart doing his best Steve Spurrier impression by attempting to run up the score in the last minute and you get a grasp for the weirdness of this one. Let’s try to make sense of it with this week’s game notes:
Clicking When It Matters
USF’s ability to come away with double-digit victories even in the midst of incomplete, sloppy performances is a sign of the strides the program has made over the past year. The East Carolina game was a prime example of that.
Let’s step back for a second and look at some of the offensive streaks that the Bulls are on. The Bulls are have a nation-leading eleven straight games with 200+ rushing yards, on top of a nation-leading streak of ten consecutive games scoring at least 35 points. As of this moment, they boast the 10th-best offense in FBS, according to Bill Connelly’s S&P+ rankings. All of this fully indicates an ability for them to explode at any moment.
Now fast forward to roughly seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. A suddenly lethargic Bulls team has allowed ECU backup quarterback Gardner Minshew II to go on a 16-0 run and bring the Pirates back into the game. The offensive playcalling in the second half has been questionable to the point where the few fans in the stands were booing for some reason.
And then Quinton Flowers connects with Rodney Adams on a 62-yard post over the middle, and a quarter and a half of inefficiency was canceled out by a 52-second touchdown drive. That’s what this offense can do at any moment.
Bend But Don’t Break
Since the FSU game, the defense’s inability to snuff out the run has been a glaring cause for concern. The Bull Sharks have given up 872 yards rushing on roughly 6.0 yards per carry in the last three contests.
For periods on Saturday, quarterback turned tailback James Summers showed his effectiveness as a versatile weapon for the Pirates offense. Raymond Woodie’s guys ultimately gave up 168 yards on the ground to an East Carolina running game that only mustered 33 yards last week vs. Central Florida.
But like the offense, the defense has shown the ability to adjust and make drive-killing plays at opportune times. After allowing three consecutive scoring drives to the trio of Minshew, Summers, and Zay Jones late in the game, the Bulls were able to put the game away on a timely Nigel Harris interception that came by excellent coverage and a tip by Deatrick Nichols. A Marlon Mack touchdown two plays later would put the game further out of reach. Like last week, with the three consecutive turnovers and Johnny Ward’s TD, the Bull Sharks stepped up when needed.
Continuing to Win Field Position
We’ve mentioned it here before, but special teams continue to be a pleasant surprise for South Florida this season, and it’s starting to show in the stats. The Bulls rank eighth in the FBS in special teams S&P, with room to rise even higher as the second half of the season unfolds.
USF once again had a stark field position advantage. Their average drive started on their own 37, while the average Pirate drive began on their own 20. Our beloved Large Adult Punter Jonathan Hernandez and kicker Emilio Nadelman were able to pin ECU inside their own 20 three times. Again, the longer an opposing team has to travel, the less opportunities they have to find the red zone.
It certainly wasn’t pretty at most times, but the Bulls were able to garner critical plays when they needed them and put the game away down the stretch in the fourth.
With Houston falling to Navy, USF now finds themselves in a position where they control their own destiny to host The American championship game in December. For that to happen, they cannot afford to get dragged down into the muck with the rest of the conference and must put down lesser opponents quickly. That starts with next week’s home game vs. Uconn.