Preview 2017: USF Bulls

Preview 2017: USF Bulls

American Athletic

Preview 2017: USF Bulls


Preview 2017: USF Bulls

Previewing and looking ahead at the USF Bulls season – and what you need to know.

Contact @PeteFiutak

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2017 USF Preview: Did Bulls Upgrade In Charlie Strong?
2017 USF Schedule Breakdown & Analysis
– USF Previews: 2016 | 2015

What You Need To Know About The USF Offense

New head man Charlie Strong is bringing over offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, who’s known for cranking out good passing attacks, but helped create a 2,000-yard runner last season in D’Onta Foreman.

The Bulls lose a star running back in Marlon Mack, but returns another loaded offense after finishing fifth in the nation in rushing, fourth in scoring, and 11th overall. It was efficient, it was relentless, and it was surprisingly balanced for a team that was so dominant on the ground.

It all starts with Quinton Flowers, the running back-built quarterback who threw well, ran better, and turned into the consummate leader for the high-powered attack. He’s helped by three returning linemen up front and great receivers to throw to in Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Tyre McCants and TE Mitchell Wilcox.

But who’s going to replace Mack? Flowers can handle a bulk of the rushing work, but D’Ernest Johnson should go from a solid No. 2 running back and great return man, to the featured guy who can do even more with more of the workload.

Biggest Key To The USF Offense

Can the receivers step up and do even more? Yeah, there might be a few good veteran receivers returning, but the No. 1 go-to guy is gone. Rodney Adams led the team with 67 grabs for 822 yards, while the next-best wideout caught just 25 passes. The top running backs – Mack and Johnson – each caught 28, but who’s going to emerge as the star receiver who can help balance out the attack?

Flowers will make everyone around him better, but the tough McCants and the 6-5 Valdes-Scantling have to do far more. They have the upside, but now they have to actually do it.

What You Need To Know About The USF Defense

Brian Jean-Mary went from being the linebackers coach at Texas to Strong’s defensive coordinator at USF. He’s got plenty of work to do with a group that gave up 482 yards per game and was hit hard for 286 passing yards an outing.

The D gave up way too many first downs, struggled to consistently get of the field, and was saved time and again by the offense that managed to carry the team in key moments.

Leading tackler Auggie Sanchez is back in the middle of the linebacking corps, but who’s around him? There are young options, but there’s not a whole lot of experience. The veterans are in the secondary.

It might have been a rocky year for the defensive backs, but they return loaded with upside starting with all-star-caliber corner Deatrick Nichols, and with four of the other top six returning tacklers in the secondary. Can the pass rush help them out?

Sanchez was the team’s leading pass rusher, but he’s not alone. Just about all of last year’s sack production returns, including Bruce Hector in the interior and Mike Love on the outside.

Biggest Key To The USF Defense

Can this group be physical enough? Charlie Strong is a whale of a defensive football coach, but it didn’t work at Texas because his teams couldn’t tackle. There were too many big things happening after first contact for an underwhelming group of talents.

The linebackers will be fine around the rest of a defense full of veterans. But now they all have to rock against the run. Giving up 478 rushing yards to Florida State was bad enough, but not being able to slow down the Navy option, or stop Temple’s ground game, was a big problem during a rough midseason stretch with over 900 yards allowed in a three-game run.

Hit, stop the run, and …

USF Will Be Far Better If …

The defense can stop giving up so many first downs. Opposing offenses had to bomb away to try keeping up with the production from the USF ground game, but the one big question mark about Strong early on will be the defense. The Bulls gave up the fourth-most first downs of anyone last year, allowing 20 or more ten times and 326 on the year. By comparison, Texas gave up a not-great 276.

Best USF Offensive Player

QB Quinton Flowers, Sr. – Built like a running back, and with 4.4 speed, the 6-0, 210-pounder was unstoppable at times, with a team-leading 1,530 yards and 18 scores. Tough as nails and devastating in the open field, he hit the 100-yard mark in seven of his last eight games and nine times on the season.

Not just a runner, he’s a deadly efficient passer, too, hitting 63% of his passes for 2,812 yards and 24 scores with just seven picks. A total yardage machine, he’s going to be a statistical superstar again and the right team leader to transition to the new coaching era.

2. RB D’Ernest Johnson, Sr.
3. TE Mitchell Wilcox, Soph.
4. WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Sr.
5. C Cameron Ruff, Sr.

Best USF Defensive Player

LB Auggie Sanchez, Sr. – An all-star last year, now he’ll be the main man for the new coaching staff’s defense after coming up with 117 tackles with six sacks and eight tackles for loss. A hitting machine from his spot in the middle, he has 303 stops in his great career. To go along with his hitting ability, he has the upside to be an even stronger pass rusher. Now he’ll be asked to be even more disruptive, and he has the smarts and experience to do it.

2. CB Deatrick Nichols, Sr.
3. DT Deadrin Senat, Sr.
4. S Tajee Fullwood, Sr.
5. DT Bruce Hector, Sr.

Key Player To A Successful Season

RB D’Ernest Johnson, Sr. – The secondary needs to be stronger after a rocky season, and the pass rush has to do even more to help the cause. But the spotlight will mostly be on the backfield after losing all-star Marlon Mack, who cranked up 1,187 yards and 15 scores, averaging close to seven yards per carry.

Darius Rice is back after breaking his ankle early on last year – he’s a tough veteran who ran for 460 yards in 2015 – but it’s Johnson who has to be the main man.

The 5-10, 208-pound Johnson was a special returner, earning all-conference honors averaging 118 yards per punt return with a score, and coming up wit 29 yards per kickoff return. He also put up 543 rushing yards and eight scores with 28 catches for 293 yards and five touchdowns. He can do it all, but can he be Strong’s workhorse? He’s going to get every shot.

The USF Season Will Be A Success If …

It wins the American Athletic Conference title. There’s no drop-off in head coaching talent, 16 starters are back – including six all-stars – and the schedule is just good enough to do what last year’s team couldn’t. The first four road games are against teams that didn’t go bowling last year, and the fifth is up the road at UCF.

Last year’s team was probably the best in the conference, and it didn’t pull out the title. This year’s team has to make amends, and that means beating …

Key Game To The USF Season

Sept. 21 vs. Temple – It was USF’s only loss in conference play last season, and it turned out to mean everything. It meant Temple won the East, it meant it went off to play for the AAC title, and it meant USF missed out on what should’ve been a truly special season. This time around it’s a Thursday night home game on national TV, and it’s the chance for Strong to take control of the division race.

2016 USF Fun Stats

– 4th Down Conversions: USF 17-of-19 (89%) – Opponents 18-of-34 (39%)
– Penalties: USF 83 for 763 yards – Opponents 60 for 544 yards
– Sacks: USF 31 for 195 yards – Opponents 15 for 94 yards

2017 USF Preview: Did Bulls Upgrade In Charlie Strong?
2017 USF Schedule Breakdown & Analysis
– USF Previews: 2016 | 2015

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