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12 Up, 12 Down: War on I-4

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*Sigh*, let’s get this over with.

Cincinnati v Central Florida Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Opponent: #9 C. Florida Golden Knights (An explainer of our editorial policy to use this name)

2018 Record: 10-0, 7-0 AAC

Head Coach: Josh Heupel, 1st Season (10-0)

Date/Time/Location: Friday, November 23 at 4:15 p.m., Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL

How To Watch/Listen: ESPN, 820 AM, Bulls Unlimited, iHeartRadio

Series History: USF leads the all-time series 6-3.

Last year’s installment of the War on I-4, a heartbreaking 49-42 loss for the Bulls, was immediately hailed as an instant classic as a national audience was captivated by the game’s dramatic final moments. The SB Nation mothership tabbed it as the best regular season game of the 2017 season.

Background

Welp, here we are. We’ve finally reached the final game of the regular season and a rivalry matchup featuring two teams who couldn’t be in any more different places than they are now.

On the home side, USF (something, something, 7-0, something) has been in complete free fall since being boatraced 57-36 by Houston on October 27. The Bulls officially lost their fourth straight contest last Saturday when they squandered a 17-0 halftime lead to fall 27-17 at Temple.

And where the Green and Gold comes figuratively and literally limping into the regular season finale, seemingly nothing has gone wrong for their opponent this year.

As @2017CHARGEONCHAMPS420_69 has probably already reminded you a million times in your Twitter mentions this week, the #9 Knights are very much the supercharged power they were a year ago, even with a brand new coaching staff led by Josh Heupel taking over.

C. has rolled right through their 2018 schedule unscathed, clinching their second straight division title last week to cap a Saturday highlighted by a visit from ESPN’s College Gameday.

C. Depth Chart

USF Depth Chart

2018 S&P+ Glossary

S&P+ Breakdown

Team S&P+ (Overall) S&P+ (USF O vs. C. D) S&P+ (USF D vs. C. O S&P+ (ST)
Team S&P+ (Overall) S&P+ (USF O vs. C. D) S&P+ (USF D vs. C. O S&P+ (ST)
USF 62 45 64 96
C. 7 6 36 30

No surprises here as the Knights hold the S&P+ advantage across the board heading into Friday’s showdown.

Heupel’s squad has remained in the top 25 of the advanced metric rating system for the entire season, hovering around the 7-10 position for the last half of the regular season.

Meanwhile, USF has only been going down since the UMass game, falling from as high as 27 to their current position at 62. Four more spots downward and they’re officially in the bottom half of the FBS.

When C. Runs...

Unit Rushing S&P+ Rushing Efficiency Run Explosiveness Opportunity Rate Stuff Rate
Unit Rushing S&P+ Rushing Efficiency Run Explosiveness Opportunity Rate Stuff Rate
C. Offense 46 21 33 21 15
USF Defense 79 78 91 54 51

Despite managing only 134 yards on 3.7 yards per carry versus Cincy last Saturday, C.’s rushing attack has still been even more efficient than last season. They’re averaging 258 rushing yards per game (199.2 in 2017) on 5.8 ypc (5.2 in 2017).

Of course, it helps when you have a ridiculous amount of running options that you can lean on to get the exact yardage and score that you need. Adrian Killins Jr., Greg McRae, McKenzie Milton, Taj McGowan and Otis Anderson have all registered at least 40 carries and four touchdowns this season.

After being gashed for three straight weeks, the USF run defense stepped up to the challenge of Temple’s Ryquell Armstead and delivered one of their best collective performances of the season.

They limited the Owls to 73 rushing yards on 1.8 ypc and held them to a 16% success rate.

When C. Passes...

Unit Passing S&P+ Pass Efficiency Pass Explosiveness Pass Completion Rate Sack Rate
Unit Passing S&P+ Pass Efficiency Pass Explosiveness Pass Completion Rate Sack Rate
C. Offense 10 13 24 71 25
USF Defense 50 30 77 29 24

While his completion percentage and adjusted yards per attempt are a little bit off from what they were last season, Milton has remained every bit of the dangerous dual-threat weapon that we saw round into form last season.

The Hawaiian signal-caller is responsible for 22 per game, third in the nation behind Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray and Houston’s D’Eriq King (who just underwent season-ending knee surgery).

Tre Nixon, Gabriel Davis and Dredrick Snelson have been Milton’s primary aerial targets this year, each hauling in at least 35 catches for over 1,500 combined yards and 14 touchdowns. Senior tight end Michael Colubiale, the only person in the program remaining from their 2014 Fiesta Bowl team, has also emerged as a receiving threat for the Knights.

Led by the likes of Khalid McGee and Ronnie Hoggins, USF limited Temple QB Anthony Russo to no touchdowns, one pick and 7.8 yards per completion last Saturday afternoon.

When USF Runs...

Unit Rushing S&P+ Rushing Efficiency Run Explosiveness Opportunity Rate Stuff Rate
Unit Rushing S&P+ Rushing Efficiency Run Explosiveness Opportunity Rate Stuff Rate
USF Offense 50 51 16 61 45
C. Defense 38 77 27 103 36

With his 83-yard, two touchdown day against Temple last week, Jordan Cronkrite became the fifth player in program history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.

Johnny Ford also provided 58 yards in the road setback and we saw the return of Duran Bell Jr., who’s been out of action since the early portions of the season.

The key for USF springing the upset in this one will be their ability to attack a Randy Shannon coached Knights’ defense that can be prone to giving up big plays on the ground. Third down in particular has been a blind spot, ranking 114th in third-and-long success rate, 101st in third-and-medium and 78th in third-and-short.

Nate Evans and Pat Jasinski have anchored the middle of the field at linebacker while on the front lines, senior Titus Davis is responsible for 16.5 run stuffs this season.

When USF Passes...

Unit Passing S&P+ Pass Efficiency Pass Explosiveness Pass Completion Rate Sack Rate
Unit Passing S&P+ Pass Efficiency Pass Explosiveness Pass Completion Rate Sack Rate
USF Offense 93 48 95 67 93
C. Defense 41 51 20 25 67

Blake Barnett has been beat the hell up over the course of the regular season, contributing to his struggles down the stretch. He went 14-of-23 passing for only 82 yards and two picks in last week’s loss.

Meanwhile, C.’s secondary has been extremely aggressive and opportunistic this season, ranking 14th in DB Havoc Rate.

Safeties Richie Grant and Kyle Gibson have combined for 10.5 run stuffs, six pass breakups, five interceptions and five forced fumbles.

Junior Nevelle Clarke has nine pass breakups, five run stuffs and two picks.

Special Teams

One unit is competent, the other is still a disaster. Advantage Citronauts.

Predictions

Morale is low across the board and even if the Bulls come out fired up for the big rivalry showdown, I think the result that everyone anticipates happening will happen.

C. 48, USF 24