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Zebold: 5 Things to Watch for Saturday

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Zebold: 5 Things to Watch for Saturday

September 16, 2016


USF Senior Writer

TAMPA, SEPT. 16, 2016 – USF Football lit up the HD scoreboards in the first two weeks of the season at Raymond James Stadium. Now it’s time to see what the high-flying Bulls can do in ACC territory.

Averaging 52 points per game, USF looks to keep the good times rolling Saturday against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. USF is 4-0 all-time at the home of the Orange and the Bulls eye their first 3-0 start to a season in the Willie Taggart era.


“It’s the first time the 2016 Bulls get to take the show on the road in a hostile environment,” Taggart said. “It’s a tough place to play up in Syracuse.”

Dating back to 2015, USF has won its past two regular season road games and the Bulls have been scoring at a rapid pace since leaving East Carolina with a victory last November. USF has averaged 545.2 yards and 48.7 points in a six-game span that has helped the Bulls gain plenty of confidence on both sides of the ball.

“We just get better and better, so we’ll see what the coaches have in store for us this week,” senior running back Darius Tice said.

Here are five things to watch for heading into the 10th installment of USF-Syracuse. The Bulls have a 7-2 advantage in the series that dates back to USF’s 27-0 win at Syracuse in 2005.

‘Three-Headed Monster’ Back at Full Strength


Buckle up your seatbelts, Bulls fans, because the Mack Attack is ready to motor past opponents once again.

Marlon Mack resumes his pursuit of USF’s career rushing record after missing the Northern Illinois game with an injury. USF’s star junior back from Sarasota needs 252 rushing yards to take the Bulls’ top spot from Andre Hall (2,731 yards).

With or without Mack, USF has been running downhill with plenty of steam with 253.5 rushing yards per game this season. Starting in place of Mack, senior Darius Tice ran wild for a career-high 120 yards last week. D’Ernest Johnson is coming off a career high, 87-yard rushing performance that helped the Bulls rack up 293 yards on the ground against NIU.

Expect a healthy dose of Mack and the rest of USF’s “three-headed monster” in the backfield against a Syracuse defense that’s allowed 229.5 rushing yards per game this season.

Gulf Coast Offense Looks to Stay in a Groove

USF’s Gulf Coast Offense set a school record with 104 points through the first two games of the season and the Bulls are hungry for many more touchdowns.


“Every play we’re trying to run, we’re trying to score with,” Taggart said.

Quarterback Quinton Flowers is coming off a career-best performance with 403 total yards and four touchdown passes that helped earn him conference offensive player of the week honors. Each one of Flowers’ TD tosses last week went to a difference receiver – Rodney Adams, Ryeshene Bronson, Chris Barr and D’Ernest Johnson.

“I was really excited with how Quinton distributed the ball to a lot of different guys in that game,” Taggart said.

Let’s see if the Gulf Coast Offense can stay in a groove against an Orange defense that’s given up 34.5 points and 494 yards per game so far.

Bulls Have Been Big in Crunch Time

USF has put up eye-popping point and yardage totals, but fans shouldn’t forget about two key stats that have led to the fireworks.


USF is tied for 14th nationally in third-down conversions (17-for-31, 55 percent).

“We put a big emphasis on it throughout the offseason. Throughout the first two ball games, it worked out well for us,” Taggart said. “It’s got to continue to be that way for us if we want to do the things we want to do offensively.”

Taggart’s Bulls are also tied for first in the FBS with a perfect scoring percentage in red zone situations (10-for-10).

Let’s see what USF can do in crunch time against a defense that’s hung tough on third down. Opposing teams have converted just 38 percent of their chances in those situations against the Orange (12-for-32).

USF Defense Will Take On Its Toughest Task Yet

USF’s Gulf Coast Offense has stolen the show so far this season, but the swarming 4-2-5 defense deserves some of the credit.


Defensive coordinator Raymond Woodie’s group forced four turnovers in the season opener and has limited opponents to 18.5 points per game. Opponents have converted on third down just 28 percent of the time (11-for-40) and passed for an average of 163 yards per outing.

“Coach Woodie has done a good job of putting together a good game plan for our guys, so they can be able to go communicate and play fast,” Taggart said. “It’s been paying off for our guys.”

Things get much tougher this week against an offense that’s backed up head coach Dino Babers’ talk of, “Orange is the new fast.” Syracuse’s up-tempo attack has produced 30.5 points and 484 yards per game so far.

Syracuse has a good one in quarterback Eric Dungey, who has thrown for 610 yards and five touchdowns with one interception in 91 attempts. Three of Dungey’s receivers have at least 100 yards, led by Amba Etta-Tawo (20 catches, 313 yards, 3 TD’s).

“They have a lot of different guys and they get it to a lot of different guys,” Taggart said.

Can the Bulls Stay Locked In?

With a home game against No. 2 Florida State approaching, USF has been asked tons of questions about Saturday being a trap game for the Bulls.


“The only way it can become a trap game is if you lose it,” Taggart said. “If you win, then what is it?”

USF definitely respects Syracuse, which is a very talented team, and the Bulls know they can’t look past the Orange.

“It’s important we go out and play our very best ball against this opponent,” Taggart said.

Coach T was pleased with USF’s focus in practice all week in preparation for an all-out battle. The Gulf Coast Offense has dealt with crowd noise, courtesy of the massive speakers at practice, to make sure everyone is on the same page at the loud Carrier Dome.

“There are going to be times in this game when you probably can’t hear the quarterback,” Taggart said. “We still have to operate like we’re normally operating.”

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