WHERE/WHEN: Reliant Stadium, Houston/tonight, 7
RADIO: 98.7 FM, 1010 AM
RECORDS: USF 2-5 (2-1 American Athletic Conference), Houston 6-1 (3-0)
USF: THREE KEYS TO VICTORY
AVOID TURNOVERS: The statistic is unreal — and practically unheard of. In seven games, USF has six offensive touchdowns. Meanwhile, USF’s opponents have scored seven defensive touchdowns off turnovers. Protecting the ball takes on new importance tonight when the Bulls start true freshman quarterback Mike White. Houston leads the nation in takeaways (27). If USF reverts to giveaway mode, um, we’ve seen that movie a few times this season. It doesn’t end well.
BLOCK AND CATCH: Of course, much attention is given to White, USF’s fourth starting quarterback this season, and the running game, which would be aided by the return of senior RB Marcus Shaw, who hasn’t played since his hamstring injury on Oct. 5. But the October offensive woes can be traced to inconsistency on the offensive line, which must protect White tonight, and an almost complete vanishing act at wide receiver, where we have rarely noticed playmaking ability and separation from defenders. White and Shaw need help.
PLAY WITH EFFICIENCY: Barring a stunning turnaround, USF’s offense won’t have a plethora of opportunities. But when the chances occur, the Bulls absolutely must take advantage. Against Louisville, USF wasted its biggest moments. Back-to-back 15-yard penalties set up USF at Louisville’s 30-yard line, where it promptly lost two yards in three plays, settling for a field-goal attempt. The Bulls’ most promising drive reached Louisville’s 18, where freshman RB Darius Tice lost a fumble. When (if?) the Bulls reach the red zone, they must cash in, being bold when necessary and not settling for field goals.
USF front seven vs. Houston offensive line: In the last three games, USF’s defense has lived in the opposing backfield, producing nine sacks and 31 tackles for a loss. Senior DT Luke Sager and MLB DeDe Lattimore have been consistently disruptive, while DLs Ryne Giddins and Aaron Lynch also have enjoyed big moments. Cougars true freshman QB John O’Korn, not particularly mobile, is dangerous when given ample time to throw, so it’s up to the Bulls to make him feel uncomfortable while going up against Houston’s veteran offensive line.
Houston 24, USF 10: Short week. Road game. True freshman starting at quarterback. USF’s offense hasn’t scored a touchdown all month. Yep, sounds like a good plan. Actually, we see the Bulls hanging in there through most of the game because of their defense (which deserves better) and special teams (which are excellent). It’s impossible to know what to expect from White, but given all the variables, it doesn’t look like an upset is in the cards. The offense must begin to show up, though, or else the season will take an even uglier turn.