Know Your Enemy: South Florida

Last Week’s Result:  Last Saturday brought about a few firsts for this South Florida football team.  It was the first game for Willie Taggart as the new head coach, it was the Bulls’ first game in the new American Athletic Conference (formerly the Big East), and was also their first loss in a home opener in program history.  The Bulls lost to Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent McNeese State 53-21 while being outgained 424-342 on the offensive end.  The major damage came in the second quarter when they were outscored 31-0.  This is a continuance of disappointing football, as this South Florida has been struggling since being ranked as high as number 2 in the 2007 season.

Offense:  Starting quarterback Matt Floyd was replaced by Bobby Eveld after going 9-for-20 with two interceptions. Eveld stepped into the role as signal caller well, finishing the game 10-for-20 and 137 yards with two scores.  Running back Marcus Shaw racked up 145 yards on the ground on 12 carries, including an 80-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage.  Shaw was also the second leading receiver for the Bulls, grabbing 5 catches for 47 yards.

It is obvious this offense comes and goes as Shaw does, so expect the Spartans strong pass rush to key in on limiting opportunities for him.  Eveld got the offense running smoother when he came in, but it is still unsure as to who will be starting when they roll into East Lansing.  Nine receivers caught passes, but none of them really stood out to be the go-to guy.  Things will not get any easier for this offense when they go up against what looks to be one of the country’s top defenses yet again.

Defense:  Junior linebacker Reshard Cliett led the team with eight tackles, two for a loss.  Defensive Back Johnny Ward recorded an interception as well, a significant stat as South Florida managed only two interceptions in all of 2012.  And that is about all of the good news for this defense.  They let the McNeese State offense behind quarterback Cody Stroud dominate the possession game, playing defense for nearly 36 minutes of the game.  Stroud also had his way the secondary, throwing for 207 yards and two scores.  The real damage came when the Bulls let up a staggering 31 points to their FCS opponent in the second quarter alone.

Giving up 53 points in your home opener to an FCS team is a nightmare start to a season for a defense, and that nightmare will likely continue Saturday in East Lansing.  The Spartans’ offensive struggles are no secret, but this is the perfect opponent for them to figure a few things out.  MSU quarterbacks Andrew Maxwell and Connor Cook struggled to link up with their receivers all game last Friday, but this secondary should provide to be an easier task.  Also, look for Jeremy Langford to build on his solid first start against what looks to be a weak rush defense.  No matter what problems the Spartans may have on offense, South Florida will not be able to stop a Big Ten offense if they cannot stop an FCS offense.

Overall:  This game is just what the doctor prescribed for Michigan State’s offense, with a defense coming into town fresh off a game where McNeese State hung 53 points on them. Although this game won’t be where the quarterback battle is certainly decided, it will certainly help all participants get some extra confidence.  That goes for the rest of the offense as well.  The receivers were inconsistent last Friday against Western Michigan, dropping 6 passes.  This should be a game where they can get a better in-game connection with their quarterbacks (however many will be playing).  Running backs Langford and Riley Bullough should get more confidence as they continue to get more reps out of the backfield.

It should be more of the same for the defense.  They looked like another nation’s top-10 defense last week against Western Michigan, making some exciting plays while they were at it.  Marcus Shaw is a dangerous back who can also catch out of the backfield, but it should not be too difficult for MSU Defensive Coordinator Pat Narduzzi to hone in on him, as no other receivers have stepped up.  The Bulls also do not know who their starting quarterback will be, but expect Eveld to get the starting nod, as their offense was smoother with him under center.

This is a South Florida team that has fallen from grace quite a bit in the last six years, and it does not appear that they will be turning things around this season after their home opening disappointment against McNeese State.  The Spartans’ opener against Western Michigan was not what the fans were hoping for, at least on the offensive end, but expect them to fix a few things against a mediocre opponent.

Photo: David Defever