Opponent: Central Florida Golden Knights
2021 Record: 7-4, 4-3 AAC
Head Coach: Gus Malzahn, first year at Oviedo.
Date/Time/Location: Friday, November 26, 3:30 p.m. Rust Bucket Stadium, Reedy Creek, FL
How To Watch/Listen: ESPN, 95.3 WDAE, Bulls Unlimited
Series History: Series is tied 6-6.
The South Florida Bulls are fresh off getting demolished 45-14 at the hands of the Tulane Green Wave, and now travel east to Oviedo to face the Golden Knights in the War-on-I-4. Head coach Jeff Scott fired defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer this week after the embarrassing performance last week.
So, USF is trying to win a game in this series for the first time since 2016, win a November game since 2017, win a road game since 2019, end the season with a win for the first time since 2017 all while breaking in two interim defensive coordinators who have never called plays.
No sweat, right?
Linebackers coach Ernie Sims, and special teams coach Daniel Da Prato are now responsible for handling the play-calling duties today with the firing of Spencer. Scott mentioned this week that it will give the Bulls a chance to change some of their tendencies, while not making wholesale changes to the scheme with just a week left. It will be a bit of a feeling out process on both sides as they try to figure out how each unit will respond with a different playcaller.
For Central Florida, freshman QB Mikey Keene has played pretty well this year. He’s thrown for 1,471 yards, 15 touchdowns, and just six interceptions. He hasn’t thrown a pick since before Halloween. Keene has been very good with the ball in his hands, and has found a favorite target in slot receiver Ryan O’Keefe who leads in the team in catches with 72, and yards at 682. Fellow wide out Brandon Johnson leads the team with 10 receiving touchdowns on just 37 receptions.
USF cannot have another “bad day at the office” like they did last week at Tulane, otherwise things will get dicey as we head into the off-season. Scott is in no threat of losing his job, but all the progress the team made from NC State to now would be wiped out by another stinker—especially against your rival.
The Golden Knights have been buoyed by the loss of QB Dillon Gabriel with some pretty stellar defense in 2021. First-year defensive coordinator Travis Williams has improved a unit that got torched for most of the 2020 season. They’re still susceptible to giving up a lot of points, but it’s really only been against the good teams they’ve faced this year (Cincinnati, SMU, Louisville).
They haven’t allowed opposing teams to score more than 20 points in six of their 11 games this season, and with freshman quarterback Timmy McClain coming off possibly his worst game of the year, it stands to reason things may not change much in that regard. He’s thrown five of his seven interceptions over the last three weeks while adding just three passing touchdowns in that same time.
Central Florida’s defense is athletic enough to do exactly what Tulane did so effectively last week. Play press man and stack the box to force the freshman QB to make plays, and make the wide receivers beat man coverage consistently which they haven’t show they can do.
Running backs Jaren Mangham, Brian Battie, and Kelley Joiner Jr. NEED to have a big day for the Bulls to have any chance at winning. Battie and Joiner both rushed for over 100 yards in last year’s contest. Another day like that (minus the fumbles), and Mangham vulturing a couple 1-yard touchdowns will make it interesting.
Listen, it’s a rivalry game and anything can happen (yada, yada, yada), but the Bulls are an 18.5-point underdog for a reason. If you want to wipe out the bad taste from last week, and the entire season, you win this game. Go into the offseason with that momentum, and come back in 2022 prepared to go bowling.
If not, you’re still a long way away from competing with your rival, and have an uphill climb to keep the fan base on your side. I don’t think it’s fair, but after years of losing, the psyche of the fan base is pretty fragile at the moment.
Bay Lake Golden Knights 48, USF 24