The No. 16 Bulls will put their nation-leading 11-game winning streak to the test against Tulane (3-3, 1-1) on the road Saturday night.
Tulane, revived under second-year coach Willie Fritz, downed Tulsa 62-28 in their last home game.
“We know this, whenever you go on the road, you’ve got to play your best and you’ve got to be at your best,” Strong said. “We’re going to get their best. Tulane has a really explosive offense.”
A victory over the Green Wave would give USF its first-ever 7-0 start to a season, and contribute to their national rise.
Here’s a look at three specific areas of play or players to keep an eye on as the Bulls look to continue their undefeated record.
1. D-Lo Is Back
After missing the season opener with an injury, DeAngelo Antoine made his presence known against Illinois on September 15. He had a career-high four catches for 93 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown catch— his first career touchdown.
It was a promising start for the sophomore slot receiver, who finished the game with 124 all-purpose yards. However, Antoine missed the following two games due to injury.
Antoine was back in action last Saturday against Cincinnati, and he seemed to pick up right where he left off. He led the Bulls with three catches for 50 yards.
“It felt great to be back out there with my teammates, to help make plays for my teammates,” Antoine said. “It was something I was looking forward to.”
He’s currently averaging 17.7 yards per catch and 14.5 yards per carry this season.
On Tuesday, Antoine said he is fully healthy and looking to continue his growth, and production.
“I just had to wait my turn and learn from the veterans we had before me,” Antoine said. “Now that I’ve learned, now I’m progressing. I’m kind of feeding off what they’ve left me to play the game with.”
He’s certainly a playmaker you’ll want to keep an eye on.
2. Tulane’s Triple Option Approach Poses a Threat
Saturday night presents a unique challenge for the Bulls’ defense: Tulane’s zone-option attack.
Sure, USF has experience with Navy’s triple-option approach, but as coach Strong explained Tuesday, Tulane will be a different kind of test.
“It’s different because when you look at Navy, Navy is an option team. There’s going to be veer blocking and you’re going to have to close the veer. You’ve got to get down inside,” Strong said.
“With Tulane, it’s zone blocking, it’s totally different. They can still run their offense, where they can still run the power and they can still run the split zone. They just sprinkle enough option in, where it makes you have to work on it.”
The Bulls’ defense has made significant strides this season— they rank No. 3 in the nation in rushing defense (77.8 ypg), and 12th in total defense (290.3 ypg).
USF also ranks first in the nation in interceptions (15) and turnover margin (plus-13). However, they haven’t faced an offense quite like Tulane’s this season.
So, how effective is the Green Wave’s offense?
We can point to their last home game against Tulsa as evidence of what this offense is capable of doing. In a dominant 62-28 victory, Tulane amassed 653 yards (488 rushing).
They’re averaging 293 rushing yards per game.
A player who will pose one of the biggest threats to USF is senior Dontrell Hilliard, who is the No. 3 rusher in AAC. Hilliard has accrued 90 carries for 607 yards and eight touchdowns this season.
Tulane quarterback Jonathan Banks has struggled with efficiency— he’s completed 37-of-71 passes for 502 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. However, he’s racked up 267 yards on the ground.
Coming off a disappointing 23-10 loss to Florida International, Tulane’s offense will be looking to rebound at home.
3. USF Searches for a Complete Game
USF is riding a nation-leading streak of 23 consecutive games with 30-points or more. South Florida is now tied with Oregon for the longest 30-point streak since 1936.
Despite an undefeated record with high-scoring games, USF hasn’t put all the pieces together— at least, not at the same time.
It poses the question: How good can this team be?
“We have yet to put together a complete game on offense, a complete game on defense and a complete game in the kicking game with all three phases,” Strong said. “So how good can we be once all of the sudden that switch hits? You flick that switch and then, boom. But I do, I think we’re a really good football team.”
USF has shown they have the talent on both sides of the ball. The Bulls are ranked in the Top 10 in both rushing yards and rushing defense. Only joined by Alabama and Georgia, who are ranked in the Top 10 of both statistical rankings.
However, slow starts and penalties have plagued this team from the beginning of the season.
During Saturday’s 33-3 win over Cincinnati, we saw USF’s offense struggle to find their rhythm.
Last week, USF ran 28 plays inside the Cincinnati 20 — only two resulted in touchdowns. The Bulls settled for field goals on four trips inside the red zone. Needless to say, red-zone efficiency is an area the Bulls will need to improve against Tulane.