This is going to be a very interesting game. The Bulls have had a week to rest up and try to figure out the offense and defensive issues that have plagued the team the last few games. They are at SMU, a team that is 0-8 and in the midst of an ugly season. The Mustangs had their best offensive output of the year in their last game and now they are back at home for their homecoming. What are the keys the Bulls have to watch out for in this game? Here are the five biggest ones to me.
Contain Matt Davis – Davis sparked the SMU offense throwing the ball and rushing for over 100 yards in the game against Tulsa. He is their leading rusher and seems to be a spark now that he has taken over in the backfield. USF has struggled this year trying to contain spread offenses and now they are facing their old enemy again. For the defense to succeed in this game, they have to contain Davis and get pressure on him. However, they cannot loose containment and allow Davis to escape and create with his legs.
How short is Flowers’s leash? – The Bulls named their starter with freshman Quinton Flowers for this game. Flowers showed enough during the bye week and won the starting job, but how long is his leash in this game? How much of the playbook will they show with him and how much of it does he know? If he goes out and has a few early turnovers or 3 and outs without moving the offense, would Coach Taggart bench him and go with Mike White or Steven Bench again? The entire process of developing Flowers has been bad (in my opinion) but now they are finally done trying to get him into games as a different wrinkly and will now allow him to throw and run. I just wonder if they will let him make mistakes or will pull him fast if he does.
Get the run game going – Opponents have rushed for over 280 yards a game against SMU, gashing their 3-4 front all season. USF, a run-based offense, needs to take advantage of his and get the running game going. USF looked like they would have the advantage against Cincinnati and Houston, but it failed. The offensive line has to do a better job run blocking and opening up the running lanes for Mack and the other backs. If they want to help out Flowers, establishing the run early has to be accomplished. And with bad weather expected, it will be key to protect the ball and run it right at SMU to wear them down and shorten the game.
Learning point – The Bulls looked awful against Houston, know they looked bad, and had an entire bye week to learn and get better. The question now though, will they get better and learn from it? We know this team is young (2nd youngest in the country) but at some point, they have to take the next step, learn from the past mistakes, and show people they are getting better. We want to see a consistent offense. We want to see a defense that is improving and learning from the mistakes they have admitted to. We thought we saw the team turning a corner against Tulsa, but they then turned around and went back to the mistake prone team of old. After a bye week and another week of solid practices (at least that is what Coach Taggart keeps saying), they should be better. Right?
Avoid the upset? – This is rare. USF is the favorite in this game by 11 points (per the Vegas odds people). USF is the better team on paper, but they could be walking into an upset. SMU is one of the worst teams in the country, but is coming off of their best performance of the year last week. They found a mobile quarterback in Matt Davis that will give the USF defense problems. They are at home, at night, on homecoming, with rainy/cold conditions expected. It could be a sloppy game with ball possession being an issue. Then here comes USF with a true freshman quarterback making his first start on the road in these conditions with a team that has not shown improvement each week. To me, it just sets up perfectly for disaster. We are favored, should be able to win, but just knowing how fate deals cruel hands out, it would be something if our team falls. I hope it doesn’t happen, please don’t let it happen.