I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t love the draw with South Florida at first, but I’ve really come around and I think they have a lot more to lose than we do. Can you imagine being a 10-win team who was contending for a conference title, to then face a 6-6 Big 12 squad. Meanwhile, if we win, it’ll be viewed positively and we’ll have a ton of momentum. Color me shocked if we don’t come out and win the game by double digits. Contrary to what our sister-site The Daily Stampede thinks.
Cheers to this being the final 11am-er of the year! (actually true this time)
Let’s dive into the questions.
1. Tech fans are very familiar with Charlie Strong. What do USF fans think of him, and is he as advertised? Also, pure curiosity - but does he talk about his "core values" there too?
Connor - I said it from the beginning, Charlie Strong was the home run hire after Willie Taggart’s departure. We were all impressed and frankly, excited with USF athletic director Mark Harlan’s quick moving of the pieces to secure Strong. In fact, Strong was already hired before the Bulls played in this same Birmingham Bowl game last December. In my personal opinion, no coach in the country walked into a better position. All the talent in the world returning from an 11-2 team in 2016, a potential (at the time) Heisman candidate in Quinton Flowers, and one of the easiest schedules in the country to boot. Unfortunately, as we like to say at the blog... Strong and company “failed the mission” as we all saw what happened in Orlando the final game of the year and USF still has zero conference championships.
“Core values” came up once or twice this season, yes ;) But perhaps more infuriating was the “it was a successful season” comment from Strong immediately after the gut-wrenching loss at Central Florida.
2. Quinton Flowers appears to be the engine that powers this offense. It sounds like he's great when he improvises, and tends to be a boom or bust candidate. How have teams limited him? Is there a formula for success there?
Connor - Another popular phrase of the blog applies here, “Let. Him. Cook.” As Quinton Flowers goes, the USF Bulls go. At the beginning of this season, we saw what many of us feared. New offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert made some unnecessary changes to what seemed to be an unstoppable offense. I said it prior to the start of the season, don’t try and fix what ain’t broke. But they did. We didn’t see as many bubble screens to the sideline or Flowers scrambles... the offense just seemed different. Of course, the loss of star RB Marlon Mack and WR Rodney Adams (both on NFL rosters at the moment) didn’t help anything, but the Bulls had plenty of depth and we weren’t seeing that be used as effectively as possible. The best way for teams to limit Flowers? Well, good luck. We’ve seen teams blitz effectively this season and there was disruption in the accuracy of his passes all season for sure, but Q can kill you with his feet if he gets any kind of room.
3. Sterlin Gilbert brought the Baylor-Style offense to Florida. The stats read that USF loves to pound the ball. What's the bread/butter play for the USF run-game? Do you see them exploiting the Tech defense?
Connor - #HBDive. The ‘ole halfback dive seems to be the (not so fan favorite) play that the USF coaching staff loves this season. We’ve seen it at times we probably shouldn’t have and that’s been tough to watch. You will see a lot of seniors D’Ernest Johnson and Darius Tice on the ground as a change of pace at times for the Bulls. Flowers though, he’s really the one to look out for running the ball. He actually needs 44 yards in the Birmingham Bowl to pass Marlon Mack for the USF career rushing record.
4. What are the strengths of this South Florida defense? It appears like there are tons of standouts. Where have teams had success against this unit?
Connor - Senior linebacker Auggie Sanchez is the heart and soul of this MUCH improved USF defense. Saturday will mark the 50th (and trust us, it feels like a LOT more than that) start for Sanchez at USF. He’s the all-time leading tackler at USF and has two pick-sixes this season so he can hurt you there too. Elsewhere, senior Bruce Hector is the guy you need to watch on the defensive line. He’s a couple sacks away from moving up the all-time sack leaderboard at USF and plays as hard as anyone on this team. The Bulls have a star in DB Deatrick Nichols who is top-five all-time at USF in interceptions and a big surprise star in DB Mazzi Wilkins who has been lights out this season.
5. What are the best matchups for USF heading into this game?
Connor - USF special teams has been a humongous disappointment. The Bulls went the first couple weeks of the season with multiple miscues on blocked field goals before appearing to get them worked out, only to have them return... in the most important game of the year (and likely school history) against Central Florida. Be on the lookout for this if you’re a Tech fan, a special teams slip up in a close, rainy kind of game could be the difference.
6. Score Prediction?
Connor - USF wins 45-31. I think both teams score with ease... but not totally out of control. Weather is expected to make an impact and that could change some things around. I think USF is the better team from an overall talent standpoint and the Bulls just have too many seniors that mean too much to this program to go out without a loss.
Also, Merry Christmas to everyone - I had to unearth this fantastic “interview” one last time cause - Charlie Strong. Regardless, I’m amped for tomorrow, let’s win this thing!