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Here we go folks, it’s bowl season. USF, 10-2 (7-1), is headed to Birmingham to take on South Carolina, 6-6 (3-5) (game begins at 2 PM EST on Thursday, the 29th) in the Birmingham Bowl. The Bulls have had weeks to prepare for this game and should be set for battle. Here are some notes on SC to get you prepared.
Will Muschamp’s offense is averaging 19.2 points per game this year, being forced to rely on freshmen throughout the season. On the flip side, the Bulls are allowing 31 points per game. The Gamecocks average 336.4 yards per game overall with 138 of them coming through the ground game. Again on the other side, the Bulls are allowing 205 yards per game on the ground and 482.2 yards overall. SC has struggled all year to find consistent offense, but may be able to against a USF defense that has struggled on the opposite side.
Here are some of the key offensive players to watch for SC:
At quarterback is freshman Jake Bentley (6’3″ 223 lbs.) who, in 6 games, is 93 for 147 (63.3%) for 1030 yards including six touchdowns and two interceptions. He has 40 carries on the year for a net total of -6 yards so don’t except him to scramble too much (but can move around a bit). Another quarterback to watch is fellow freshman Brandon Mcilwain (6′ 205 lbs.) who, in 8 games, is 62 for 118 (52.2%) for 600 yards including two touchdowns and an interception. He has 63 carries for 127 yards and two rushing touchdowns. Mcilwain is brought in to give the Gamecocks a running threat at quarterback so the USF defense has to be aware of that.
Players like Auggie Sanchez, who leads the Bulls with 111 tackles on the season, will have to keep an eye on him.
At running back is freshman running back Rico Dowdle (5’11” 211 lbs.) who has 121 carries for 714 yards (5.9 yards per carry) and six rushing touchdowns. He also has 14 catches for 47 yards and a score. Another player to watch is redshirt freshman running back AJ Turner (5’10” 195 lbs.) who has 106 carries for 448 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and two rushing touchdowns. He also has 18 catches for 120 yards (6.7 yards per catch) and a score.
Both Turner and Dowdle split the majority of the carries and will be key players to stop whenever SC gets the ball. Nigel Harris, who has 9.5 tackles for loss on the year, will have to lead that front seven of the USF defense and shut down the ground game, forcing the young quarterbacks of SC to make plays down the field.
If the SC quarterbacks do get time to throw, they will targeting their top wide receiver redshirt sophomore Deebo Samuel (6’2″ 205 lbs.) who in 9 games has 45 receptions for 593 yards (13.2 yards per catch). He is their go-to threat down the field. Another one to watch is freshman wide receiver Bryan Edwards (6’3″ 210 lbs.) has 38 receptions (11 games) for 519 yards (13.7 yards per catch) and three receiving touchdowns. Redshirt sophomore tight end KC Crosby (6’1″ 227 lbs.) has 22 receptions for 210 yards (9.5 yards per catch) and has four receiving touchdowns, giving them a threat over the middle.
The USF secondary will be challenged in this game due to the size of the SC receivers. Ronnie Hoggins, who has 48 tackles, Deatrick Nichols, who has 4 interceptions, and others will have to play smart,wrap up, and not allow them to get deep.
A key stat to watch is the SC offensive line. They have allowed 36 sacks this year, which is something Deadrin Senat and the front four of the USF defense could take advantage of in this game.
The SC defense enters this game allowing 24.8 points per game while the Bulls have averaged 43.6 points per game. The Bulls get these points off their ground game which is averaging 292.6 yards per game while the Gamecocks allow 202 yards per game while holding opponents to around 204 yards through the air. If the Bulls are going to win this game, it will be on the legs of Quinton Flowers, Marlon Mack, and D’Ernest Johnson to get it done.
Up front, SC is led on the line by redshirt senior defensive lineman Darius English (6’6″ 245 lbs.) who has 57 tackles, including 12.5 tackles for loss (nine sacks) and has forced two fumbles on the season. English will be a key player to block before he clogs up the running lanes.
At linebacker, SC is led by junior Bryson Allen-Williams (6′ 230 lbs.) who has 73 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss (two sacks) and one interception on the year. Allen will be tasked with keeping an eye on the AAC offensive player of the year, Quinton Flowers. Flowers has 15 rushing touchdowns and is a key to the success of the USF ground game.
Leading the SC secondary is junior DJ Smith (5’11” 195 lbs.) who has 73 tackles, three tackles for loss, and one interception. Another defensive back to watch out for is junior Jamareus King (6’2″ 180 lbs.) who has 53 tackles, three tackles for loss, three interceptions, and nine pass break-ups on the season. The secondary overall has 14 interceptions as group, something to watch as Flowers attempts to air it out to Rodney Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
Overall the SC defense is tough, as one should expect from a Will Muschamp coached team. Overall as a unit they have 66 tackles for loss on the season including 21 sacks. They get pressure, stops things in the backfield and get turnovers. These things could keep them in this game.
A lot has happened to the Bulls since the end of the regular season. Willie Taggart is gone, TJ Weist is the interim head coach, and Charlie Strong will be watching. That’s a lot to deal with no matter what and it could have an affect on the team early once they get back to action. Plus they haven’t played a game in weeks (have to factor that in as well).
With that said, I still think, despite the distractions the team has faced, I still think they will be ready for this game and should have success both on offense and slowing down the SC offense. I think we will see a closer game than many would like, like 31 to 24 or even 27, but I see USF pulling off the victory and setting a new mark in the program’s history.
by Matt Staton
SoFloBulls.com Columnist | @USFMatt
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