Today we're joined by Ryan T. Smith of Underdog Dynasty and Bulls 247. Ryan's here to tell you everything you need to know about USF for Saturday's breakfast special at Doak Campbell Stadium. We talk Willie Taggart, co-coordinators, and a run defense that will present a challenge for the 'Noles.
TN: South Florida is in its third season with Willie Taggart at the helm. While Taggart has hauled in some impressive recruiting classes, the play on the field hasn't been great so far. How are you feeling about the state of the program, and what are your expectations for the 2015 season?
MTS: Most USF fans feel drastically different about the state of the program and the state of the program under Taggart, so to speak. Taggart's done a fine job bringing in talent considering the limitations (falling out of a power conference, poor on-field play, etc.), and we're finally seeing some of those players start to shine, but we've seen no signs of Taggart being able to correctly utilize that talent. He spent two seasons trying to fit second and third-tier Florida talent into a Power I offense, which is not going to work unless you've got a really talented offensive line. He did not! After years of preaching about "the process" and how the system takes time to learn, he likely felt pressure from higher-ups before Year Three to put something more entertaining on the field, and made the switch to a hurry-up spread offense.
To recap: USF is running a hurry-up spread offense coached by a man who has literally never run a hurry-up spread offense in his life, who recruited pretty much the entire team to run a Power I. You can see why USF fans are not particularly optimistic about this season.
The good news is that the Bulls finally have a system that fits the sort of talent they can best bring in (as you know, Florida is overflowing with players at the skill positions) and an athletic director who seems to know what he's doing, so there's a lot of hope that even if Taggart can't get the job done in 2015, this program will be back on the right track in the next couple of seasons.
TN: What were your takeaways from USF's 51-3 week one victory over FAMU?
MTS: Honestly, you can't take away too many concrete conclusions from a game against Florida A&M. That said, it reinforced a couple things that we already knew: the Bulls' defense is miles ahead of their offense, and the quarterback situation is still frightening as ever. Still, it was admittedly really refreshing to see USF easily take care of a team they should take care of; this was literally their first win by more than a possession since 2012.
If I'm forcing myself to draw a conclusion, I was very pleased with how some of the young talent, especially on offense, played against FAMU. The Bulls have weapons, they just need to find ways to get them the ball.
TN: An offense that struggled last year replaced its coordinator with co-coordinators Danny Hope and David Reaves. What do the Bulls like to do on offense, and what are their strengths and weaknesses?
MTS: I wish I could tell you more, but we've only seen one game with a rather vanilla system against a terrible team. In theory, the offense is supposed to center around the power running game, but in reality it's a pretty basic spread option look with Quinton Flowers and Marlon Mack in the backfield. Both are very dangerous weapons running the ball; unfortunately, Flowers is remarkably erratic as a passer beyond ten yards or so, which is not a great thing to be as a quarterback. The Bulls have a handful of players like Mack, Flowers, and D'Ernest Johnson who are dangerous if they've got the ball in space, they just have a lot of difficulty creating that space when they've got a leaky offensive line and no sort of continuity at quarterback.
I imagine USF will try to attack FSU by pounding Mack and having Flowers play it very, very safe by getting the ball outside on screens and quick outs. Eventually, they'll probably attempt to catch the FSU DBs creeping up to the box and go over the top-- think USF's strategy with BJ Daniels in 2009, except without the good players. If FSU stops Mack, they won't have an issue stopping USF.
TN: Which players, other than the best-named guard duo in the country (Brynjar Gudmundsson and Thor Jozwiak), will be key to USF's success on offense against the ‘Noles?
MTS: Mack is the centerpiece of the offense, obviously, but there's no way USF moves the ball against FSU if they don't get a good game from Quinton Flowers. Flowers isn't going to light anyone up through the air, but he's got to at least present the threat of a downfield passing to have any sort of shot against the Noles. This probably means he'll need some help from receivers like Rodney Adams or freshman tight end Kano Dillon, both of whom have the ability to do damage downfield. If they can get some space against FSU's DBs (difficult!), perhaps Flowers can get them the ball (more difficult!) and clear some room for himself and the backs (this one is reasonable, I guess).
TN: The South Florida defense switched from a 3-4 to a 4-2-5 in 2015. Do you think this change will allow the Bulls to improve against the pass after being dreadful in the secondary a year ago?
MTS: Yes, on this one I actually do. Chuck Bresnahan's 3-4 was awfully conservative and squandered some pretty decent talent with dull blitzing schemes and remarkably soft coverage. Tom Allen's 4-2-5 hasn't had the opportunity to prove itself better yet, but in theory, it takes much better advantage of USF's team speed, sends a much more creative array of pressures, and allows the defensive backs to play a little more aggressive than they otherwise would. I don't expect the defense to be world beaters this season, but a significant improvement from 2014 seems reasonable.
TN: In which match-ups do you think the Bulls can have success in defending FSU's offense? Which concern you?
MTS: I am concerned about pretty much all of them. USF has the athletes to stand toe-to-toe with most teams on the their schedule; Florida State is not one of those teams. I'd feel a little better if the Bulls had their two best linebackers, Nigel Harris and Tashon Whitehurst, available for the game, but they're still serving two-game suspensions. USF will certainly come out fired up for this one, and I'd expect them to try to disguise their pressure and use some of their hybrid-type rushers off the edge to get pressure on Golson and force a few turnovers. I don't know if that will work, but it seems to me like the only shot they really have to hang around.
TN: The Bulls opened as a 28.5-point underdog on the road for Saturday morning's contest. Give us your prediction for how this one unfolds.
MTS: The line seems about right to me. Barring something we've yet to see from Taggart's offense, the Bulls will need a massively sloppy performance from the Noles to hang around in this one. That's possible, but unlikely. I'd be encouraged if the defense comes out firing, Flowers doesn't self-destruct against the best defense he's ever played against, and the Bulls hang tough early. Anything else is gravy.
Thanks to Ryan for his time and insight! I answered some questions for him here.