After a long anticipated wait for South Florida fans, the Bulls will once again see action on the field Friday night against the University of Illinois. The Fighting Illini come into Tampa with a 2-0 record after quality wins over Ball State and Western Kentucky.
This will be USF’s first game since having to cancel and reschedule last weekend’s game against UConn due to Hurricane Irma. With the extra week off, fans will have plenty to watch for Friday night.
The first component of tonight’s game to watch for is how this South Florida team plays together as a whole? After preparing to play UConn last week, the Bulls had to change their game plan and prepare for an Illinois team that they know will be a tough challenge. Knowing how Head Coach Charlie Strong likes to keep his teams disciplined, it will be key for the Bulls to keep their focus on the Fighting Illini and getting the win.
Another area of concern on everyone’s mind to watch for in this game is how can this Bulls offense get going in the first half? In each of its first two game, South Florida’s offense has sputtered to a start until finally getting the wheels to turn and the unit to start clicking.
However, these games were against Stony Brook and San Jose State, two teams that should not have been that difficult to score on. As Illinois brings in its Big Ten defense, it will be imperative for the offense to find the end zone early and build the momentum that the Bulls need.
Speaking of the offense, the running back situation has been fun to watch play out. Coach Strong has kept a solid rotation between D’Ernest Johnson and Darius Tice, who have near identical numbers when it comes to carries. Tice has accrued more yards and found the end zone only once more than Johnson, but that hasn’t stopped coach Strong from splitting carries.
The Bulls have been trying to find the guy that will step into their feature back role but it seems as though coach Strong wants to keep both athletes in rotation. If Tice and Johnson can continue to find success, and ultimately the end zone, don’t expect coach Strong to favor one guy over the other.
The game marks the return of former Bears/Bucs head coach Lovie Smith to Raymond James Stadium, on the opposing sideline, this time. Smith coach the 2014-15 seasons in Tampa before being let go after winning only eight games in the two years.
South Florida will look to continue its winning success against a quality Illinois opponent, one that could bolster their case for a New Year’s Six bowl game.