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SoFloBulls.com | USF faces a stalwart, takeaway 22nd ranked Navy defense tomorrow night at Raymond James Stadium. When the Midshipmen defense forces at least one turnover, Navy has been the victor in 24 of the last 26 contests. Can the USF Bullshark defense and defensive coordinator Raymond Woodie make the necessary adjustments to tame the multi-faceted triple-option attack?
The Bulls return home after a tough loss last Friday night at the hands of Temple, but the buck didn’t stop in Philadelphia. The 22nd ranked Midshipmen are 5-1 (4-0) this season, largely due to Navy sporting one of the most prolific rushing attacks in the country. Here are both the key offensive, and defensive players to watch out for tomorrow night on ESPN2.
The triple-option attack of Navy is led by senior quarterback Will Worth (6’1″, 205 lbs.), who hails from nearby Valrico, FL. Worth has amassed 688 yards through the air on 37 for 62 passing (58%), while tossing five touchdowns, and flicking two picks in 2016. Worth has totted the rock 489 yards on 133 carries (3.7 yards per carry), and has nine rushing touchdowns on the year. The Midshipmen’s triple-option relies heavily on Worth’s decision making, where the signal caller must decide between handing off to the running back, letting the fullback dive ahead, or keeping the ball and utilizing his legs. USF faces a tall task tomorrow night, and must play pure assignment defense with a spy keying on Will Worth every single down.
Junior fullback Chris High (6’0″, 224 lbs.) has 55 carries for 392 yards (7.1 yards per carry) and five touchdowns. It’s not often you see a fullback lead a team in rushing these days, but High is a big time part of Navy’s offense and is a monster up the middle on fullback dives. I am praying the Bulls’ defensive front four, along with the linebackers, fill assigned gaps and limit dives to less than five or six yards a carry. As if High and Worth weren’t an adequate challenge, senior running back Dishan Romine (5’11”, 178 lbs.) adds an additional 256 rushing yards on 29 touches (8.8 yards per carry). Did I happen to mention Romine already has two receptions for 45 yards this season?
Romine posted 16 carries for 115 yards in the Midshipmen’s 29-17 win over USF in Annapolis last year he victory. Romine is the pitch man of the triple-option offense, taking the hand-off when the dive and quarterback keeper are both covered. The USF linebackers, starting with middle linebacker Auggie Sanchez, must be in position the entire game and miss zero tackles.
Navy doesn’t run every down and will turn to the air attack several times throughout the game. When they do, keep an eye on the Midshipmen’s go-to target in senior wide receiver Jamir Tillman (6’4″, 212 lbs.). Tillman has pulled down 19 passes for 296 yards (15.1 yards per catch) and a receiving touchdown this season. Tillman had three catches for 16 yards in the victory over the Bulls’ a season ago. The USF secondary, while also providing run support, must keep a watchful eye on Tillman. The return of standout cornerback Ronnie Hoggins to the USF secondary will add necessary shutdown coverage, but other secondary staples like Nate Godwin, who recorded 10 tackles in the 2015 loss, need to step up under the bright lights and become playmakers to mutually stymie the passing and ground attacks.
In the end, this game will boil down to which team dominates upfront and owns the trenches. Navy averages 243.2 rushing yards per game and the Bulls have allowed the opposition to tally 206 yards per game in 2016. Navy ravaged the USF defense for a gaudy 428 yards in 2015, and based on last week’s abysmal performance the Bulls’ may be in for another rough evening unless Raymond Woodie makes drastic scheme changes. On the other side of the ball, Navy has limited the opposition to 148 rushing yards per game, and the Midshipmen defense is certainly looking to bottle up USF’s ground game like they did a season ago.
The strength of the Midshipmen defense is the linebacker unit, led by junior Micah Thomas (6’1″, 249 lbs.). Thomas has collected 46 tackles, a tackle for loss, and two pass break-ups this season and recorded three tackles against the Bulls’ last year. The Midshipmen typically utilize a 3-4 look as the base defense, which is anchored by Thomas.
USF’s ‘Gulf Coast Offense’ rushing attack tends to bounce hand-offs, pitches, and sweeps outside. Tomorrow night junior outside linebacker DJ Palmore (6’3″, 236 lbs.) will look to stuff the Bulls when they try to kick out to the sideline. Palmore has 28 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and five sacks in 2016, with a forced fumble and two pass break-ups on the season. Also on the outside for Navy is senior outside linebacker Josiah Powell (6’3″, 224 lbs.). Powell has 30 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack, and two interceptions in 2016. Both Palmore and Powell are stout against the run and can wreak havoc in the short passing game.
Sophomore safety Sean Williams (6’1″, 190 lbs.) leads the Midshipmen secondary group with 34 tackles and a tackle for loss six games into the 2016 season, Quinton Flowers completed 12 of 20 passing attempts (60%) for 208 yards against Navy last year, while being limited to 15 rushing yards on six carries. Navy did a excellent job last year taking away Flowers’ running lanes lanes and forcing the dual-threat quarterback to make throws down field. Wide receiver Rodney Adams hauled in three of Flowers’ passes, but was kept out of the endzone. If Navy shuts down the USF run game, the onus falls directly on Flower’s arm to keep drives alive and put points on the board.
I won’t lie, this game scares the living crap out of me. The Bulls haven’t stopped the run all season and essentially all Navy does is run, run, then run some more. It doesn’t bode well for the Bulls on paper, but maybe after a week of hard practices blended with national embarrassment the USF defense will rise to the occasion for a triumphant return to Raymond James Stadium. I’ve got my fingers and toes simultaneously crossed, but the overwhelming wariness in my gut serves as a constant reminder that the game could go sideways on any given play. Regardless, a glimmer of hope exists, and hopefully the Bulls turn the defensive corner and get back on track tomorrow night. #BeatNavy.
by Matt Staton
SoFloBulls.com Columnist | @USFMatt
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