Here we go, the second to last game of the regular season and our Bulls, 8-2 (5-1), are on the road as they take on SMU. The Mustangs are 5-5 (3-3) on the season and are 2-2 at home this season. USF beat them 38 to 14 last year but this is a different SMU team that will be looking for the upset victory.
The Mustangs are averaging 27 points per game this year while the USF defense is allowing 31.4 points per game. SMU is also averaging 170.8 yards per game on the ground while our vaunted USF defense (insert sarcasm) is allowing 224.4 yards per game against them on the ground. This could mean a steady dose of rushes against the USF defense.
Leading the run game for the Mustangs is sophomore running back Braeden West (5’10” 170 lbs.) who has 161 carries for 868 yards (5.4 yards per carry) and has six rushing touchdowns on the year (11 catches for 64 yards). West had five carries in the game last year for 23 yards but should see a lot more carries in this game. As talented as West is, he is not alone in the backfield.
Freshman running back Ke’mon Freeman (5’11” 212 lbs.) has 121 carries for 544 yards (4.5 yards per carry) and three rushing touchdowns. Freeman also has nine catches for 109 yards and one touchdown. Freeman is a player the USF front seven will have to watch out for along with West in the SMU backfield. So who should we look to on the USF defense to step up in the run game? Well, it starts with the captain, Auggie Sanchez.
Sanchez has 85 tackles on the season with eight tackles for loss (six sacks), three pass break-ups, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He had nine tackles and a fumble recovery in the game last year and will need another big game in this one. The front seven overall has struggled all year and they are facing another tough test with the Mustangs. We know it, they know, and everyone watching knows they will come out running the ball.
When SMU isn’t running they ball, they are averaging 241 yards through the air while the Bulls are allowing 480.5 yards per game overall.
Freshman quarterback Ben Hicks (6’1″ 216 lbs.) is 178 for 337 (52%) for 2219 yards including 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Hicks has 33 carries for -55 yards and one rushing touchdown. Like Riley Ferguson last week for Memphis, Hicks is not exactly mobile, but can move a bit, something USF has to contend with.
Down the field, their leading wide receiver is sophomore Courtland Sutton (6’4″ 215 lbs.) who has 54 receptions for 934 yards (16.4 yards per catch) and seven receiving touchdowns. Sutton had three receptions for 56 yards and one touchdown in the game last year. He is the primary target for Hicks in the passing game. Joining Sutton is freshman wide receiver James Proche (5’11’ 183 lbs.) who has 48 receptions for 589 yards (12.3 yards per catch) and five receiving touchdowns. Along with Sutton, Proche will be someone to watch in the passing game.
So who in the USF secondary can slow these guys down? Nate Godwin is one. Godwin has 59 tackles with one tackle for loss and two pass break-ups on the season. He had three tackles in the game last year and will need a bigger game to slow down the SMU receivers. Other key players like Tajee Fullwood who had three tackles and forced a fumble in the game last year will all have to step in this game (having Devin Abraham could help out).
Now, let’s switch over to the defensive side of the ball for the Mustangs. SMU is allowing 32 points per game as the Bulls enter this one averaging 44 points per game. For USF to have success and control this game, they will once again need to rely on that running attack that is averaging 287.2 yards per game.
In the game last year, USF ran for 252 yards on their way to the victory, something the Mustangs will try to take away. On the year, they are allowing 175.2 yards per game so far, which could mean some opportunities for Quinton Flowers and company.
In the meeting last year, Flowers only threw for 97 yards, but ran it 23 times for 201 yards and three rushing touchdowns. We saw Flowers dominate Memphis last week with his legs and he could be in for another big game on the ground. One of the key defensive linemen that will try to slow him down is defensive end Justin Lawler (6’4″ 262 lbs.) who has 58 tackles on the season with 12 tackles for loss (six sacks), one fumble recovery and has blocked two kicks. It will be key for the USF offensive linemen to pick Lawler up and others to allow Flowers time to create in the backfield.
Leading the linebackers is sophomore linebacker Kryan Mitchell (6′ 210 lbs.) who has 54 tackles with five tackles for loss (3.5 sacks), two pass break-ups, and has recovered one fumble this year. Mitchell had six tackles including two tackles for loss in the game last year. He and the rest of the front seven will have to contend with Marlon Mack and D’Ernest Johnson when Flowers isn’t running all over the place. Remember, Mack did not play in this game last year due to his hamstring injury so this could be real interesting.
The real strength of the SMU defense is its secondary and its ball-hawking playmakers. Senior defensive back Darrion Millines (6′ 208 lbs.) has 57 tackles, five interceptions, four pass break-ups, and has forced a fumble. Jordan Wyatt (6′ 195 lbs.) has 46 tackles (three tackles for loss), four interceptions, seven pass break-ups, and has forced three fumbles. Senior Horace Richardson (6′ 201 lbs.) has 27 tackles (two tackles for loss), six interceptions, and eight pass break-ups. That’s 15 interceptions between those three guys. If Flowers is throwing it down the field, he better know exactly where he’s going with the ball.
I just get the feeling this is going to be a really close game, a high scoring one at that. Get set and get ready for a interesting Saturday evening!
by Matt Staton
SoFloBulls.com Columnist | @USFMatt
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