By the numbers: Bulls menacing on both sides of the ball
With the retention of quarterback Quinton Flowers and the arrival of a defensive-minded head coach in Charlie Strong, the South Florida Bulls ensured that their football team would continue to be successful. The numbers have shown just as much.
Offense less efficient but still good
When Strong took over the head coaching position at South Florida, the Bulls were coming off an 11-win season in which they finished among the nation’s best with 43.8 points, 5.6 touchdowns and 512 yards a game. That included their top-three ranking 3.6 rushing touchdowns a game, while averaging 6.55 yards per carry, and top-five with 285 yards on the ground.
With Strong at the helm, the Bulls offense juiced up in volume what it might have lost in efficiency. USF is second in the nation with 84.6 offensive plays per game, helping them to 41.6 points, 4.8 touchdowns and nearly 500 yards per contest. The Bulls rank in the top 20 in every category. The only downside to the Bulls’ offense is their lack of discipline, manifested in 9.7 penalties a game.
The rushing game is clearly the focus of that offense, with the Bulls among nation’s top 15 in running plays (58), yards (305) and scores (3.1) per contest. Along the way, the Bulls have shown great ball security, losing only three fumbles.
Flowers has also done well to keep the ball with the Bulls, throwing only three interceptions on the year.
Imposing defensive front
Last season, the Bulls’ defensive efforts, turnovers aside, were nothing to write home about. The defensive unit stayed on the field for nation’s worst 82.6 snaps per contest, giving up 482 yards, 23 first downs and nearly four scores a game. The only bright spots were their two forced turnovers and negligible 4.6 penalties per contest, placing them among top-20 defenses in Football Bowl Subdivision.
This year, the USF defense is easily among the most impressive units in the nation. It allows only 308 yards, two touchdowns and 19 points per game while placing second in the nation with 2.7 forced turnovers.
Moreover, the Bulls’ secondary is a clear-cut number one with 2.3 interceptions a game, alongside their top-five ranking in opponent’s completion percentage (47.8). On the other hand, the Bulls’ suffocating rush defense limits opposing teams to 2.77 yards per carry and 95 yards overall, both categories seeing them among nation’s 10 best teams.
Bulls’ action in 2016
The Bulls are riding a 12-game win streak dating back to Oct. 28, 2016, and considering the roster has not changed much this season, their performances from a year ago are worth examining.
From the start of last season until now, USF has gone 18-2, with the two losses coming against No. 13 Florida State and American Athletic Conference champions Temple. The common theme in those losses was the Bulls’ inability to create turnovers — just one in those two games, compared to their season average of two per game.
As for some of the unnecessarily tight wins, the Bulls were taken to overtime by the terrible defense of South Carolina and had a close call against a five-win SMU squad. Against South Carolina, USF appeared to let the foot off the gas after going up 39-21 midway through the third quarter. In the SMU game, the Bulls’ offense was outgained in first downs (28 to 16) and total yards (100), aided by defense’s three forced turnovers.
USF has not faced a single all-around respectable opponent this year, with Tulane and Temple as the only two teams ranking in the top 100 in total offense and defense. Temple turned the ball over six times and got annihilated 43-7 by the Bulls. Last week, USF bulldozed the Tulane Mean Green for a 34-7 lead before loosening the grip and winning by only six points.
When the Cougars go into Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on Saturday, they must be motivated despite ruined chances of an AAC championship. If there is one way the Cougars could make up for the last two weeks, a great start would be to end the longest-active winning streak in the FBS.