Prior to Saturday’s in-state contest at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa between No. 13 Florida State and undefeated South Florida, we exchanged five questions with a couple members of SoFloBulls Blog, an independent USF athletics site.
Editor Matt Manuri and columnist Matt Staton each took time out of their day to answer those questions pertaining to Saturday’s contest. You can follow both Matt’s on Twitter, Manuri @Mcknurkle or Staton @USFMatt.
The questions and answers are below:
1. To get started, let’s talk about the magnitude of this game for South Florida. Jim Leavitt was known for being a bit of a giant killer, but Willie Taggart still seems to be looking for that real statement victory. His Bulls beat a ranked Temple team last year, but no one with the football pedigree of Florida State. What would a win like this do for not only Taggart, but USF as a program?
MM: Jim Leavitt was a giant killer. Under Leavitt USF knocked off both No. 17 Auburn and No. 5 WVU in 2007, as well as No. 13 Kansas (2008), No. 18 FSU (2009), and No. 21 WVU (2009). On the other side of the coin, Skip Holtz initially enjoyed success with Leavitt era players, beating Clemson in the 2010 Meineke Car Care Bowl and knocking off No. 16 Notre Dame the next game in South Bend to open the 2011 season. Holtz then proceeded to tarnish the program’s image, finishing 2010 8-5 (3-4), 2011 5-7 (1-6), and 2012 3-9 (1-6) for a three year record of 16-21 (5-16) before getting canned.
Why am I mentioning all of this? While a victory over No. 13 Florida State is great for media clout, it simply isn’t the biggest game on the Bulls’ schedule. A win over the Seminoles would certainly give Taggart a statement victory, but the true team focus is on the AAC Championship game and the dynamic Greg Ward led No. 6 Houston Cougars.
MS: Coach Taggart is approaching this game as if it’s any other game, not getting too hyped up about it and keeping an even keel. Coach T has always had a plan to rebuild the program, so one game is never bigger than another. If USF wins this game, it’s just another step forward for Taggart, the program, and the players.
2. People who are somewhat familiar with South Florida as a program probably know about Quinton Flowers’ dual-threat ability, they may have heard of Marlon Mack or they may have a general idea about the Bulls’ team speed. What’s something about this team you wouldn’t know just from looking at box scores or tuning in a couple times a year?
MM: This South Florida squad boasts the deepest wide receiver unit arguably in school history. Whether it’s 6’5 NC State transfer Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Toledo transfer speedster Rodney Adams, Ryeshene Bronson, Tyre McCants, Chris Barr, not to mention running back D’Ernest Johnson, there isn’t drop off. This is the first time USF has enjoyed offensive depth with no worries, just a ‘next man up’ mentality.
MS: I think that the casual viewer would overlook the overall depth and speed of the skill position players on the roster. The Bulls can roll out various wide receivers in different formations, have multiple running backs, and skilled secondary players that can rotate in without losing speed or play-making ability on the field. This is probably one of the deepest teams the Bulls have had in a while. Some guys are 2nd and 3rd team members when they could have been starting in years before.
3. I’m not sure how closely you’ve watched Florida State this season. Obviously, you’re well aware of how bad last week was. Is there one particular area or match-up where you see the Bulls having a distinct advantage over the Seminoles?
MM: Willie Taggart’s Gulf Coast offense is up-tempo, and strikes fast. USF orchestrated four touchdown drives last week against Syracuse under two minutes, and have 12 touchdown drives less than two minutes this season. The Bulls’ longest scoring drive of the year ran just 3:56 off the clock. The Seminoles struggled last week defensively against a similar zone-read, up-tempo dual-threat quarterback in Lamar Jackson and Louisville. Now, I’m not claiming the Bulls are the same squad as the Cardinals, but there are many comparisons that can be easily made. I’m not going to call out a distinct advantage, because both teams are very talented. There is a reason why the Vegas spread is only give or take -6.
MS: I think a major match-up to watch will be wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling who has become a favorite target of Quinton Flowers in the vertical passing game. At 6’5″, Marquez has a height advantage against most of the FSU secondary, something the Bulls could attack down the field.
4. FSU running back Dalvin Cook hasn’t had a great start to 2016, but against South Florida last season in Tallahassee, Cook had a career-day with 266 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Obviously, it’s a new season, but what’s changed for South Florida since last September that should make people believe things can be different this time around? How big of a factor will stopping Cook be?
MM: Dalvin Cook is a one of a kind tailback. Cook certainly had a record day last year, but USF held the Seminoles to a 7-7 tie at halftime, and the score was 27-14 with 1:55 left in the fourth quarter before Dalvin Cook darted 37 yards for his third touchdown on the day. A major factor in Cook’s production a year ago was due to the Bulls’ defensive maestro and captain middle linebacker Auggie Sanchez missing the first half after being ejected for a garbage targeting penalty at Maryland the previous week.
Another key point: run the game back to the fourth quarter with 7:58 remaining and look at the retina incinerating dropped pass as the Bulls were driving down the field. Unfortunately, I had the displeasure of witnessing the deplorable drop live from the Doak stands. Dalvin is going to get his, but the Bulls need to seal the edges to minimize the damage and limit Cook’s big runs.
MS: The Bulls add some depth and speed at linebacker over since the last meeting. Cecil Cherry, who had to sit out last year, among others, will give the Bulls the depth and speed needed to chase down Cook on the perimeter and stuff the run between the tackles. Also having Auggie Sanchez for an entire game will also help as well. I think its a huge factor in the game because of how talented he is, both as a rusher and as a receiver. If USF can bottle him up, it puts more pressure on Deondre Francois.
5. South Florida is off to a 3-0 start, but the Bulls haven’t really played a competitive game yet while Florida State opened the season with a thrilling comeback win. When we spoke in the offseason, you said you expected this year’s game to be the closest of the four match-ups in the all-time series. If this one is close late, who do you think has the advantage? Will it be USF because of the confidence it will have gained from making it a 4-quarter fight or FSU because the Seminoles have been there before?
MM: To be honest I had to think about how to respond to this question for a while. The series between USF and FSU has been hard fought on both sides and every game has come down to the fourth quarter. 2009 USF won at the Doak 17-7. In 2012 Bulls’ starting quarterback B.J. Daniels came out for literally one play with no time remaining in the third quarter trailing the ‘Noles 23-10. Backup quarterback Matt Floyd managed to not only get sacked by Tank Carradine, but coughed up the rock allowing Christian Jones to scoop and score the Seminoles final touchdown. Unfortunately, I sat in the south end zone stands and watched the entire play unfold. (video below)
A season ago in Tallahassee the game was gridlocked 7-7 at the half. The score was 27-14 FSU, the Bulls sat at 3rd and seven and were driving down the field when Quinton Flowers hit a former USF wideout in the chest with a pass and he dropped it. The rest is in my answer to question number four above. So, USF has always been in the game and if the Bulls avoid miscues this will be a tight game. Everyone has been there before, it’s all about closing and come Saturday we will see who steps up when the pressure is on at Raymond James.
MS: If it’s a close game late, I don’t think the Bulls will feel a huge amount of confidence they have hung in there with FSU, it will rely on the confidence they already have entering the game. USF got pushed against Syracuse last week, but they did not panic, went to work, and ran away with the game. They have confidence in the systems, something Coach Taggart has installed and pushed for the past several years, and his players embrace it. They are confident in themselves and will have no issue digging deep late in the game and going for a late quarter victory. Continue Reading by Clicking Here