Who: USF Bulls (7-5) vs. Marshall Thundering Herd (8-4)
What: 2018 Gasparilla Bowl
When: Thursday night 8:00 p.m.
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
Spread: Marshall by 3 points (Courtesy of Vegasinsider.com)
Who quarterbacks the Bulls?
When last we saw USF in action in late November, their 5th Year senior quarterback who transferred from Arizona State, Blake Barnett, had been too banged up to play. So, USF has had to utilize backups Brett Kean and Chris Oladokun in Barnett’s absence. Neither quarterback distinguished themselves in either the Temple or UCF losses to end the year.
It’s now a month later for this matchup, and there is still a question mark entering tonight’s, as to whether Barnett will be healthy enough to play? If the Bulls can’t have some balance by throwing the ball on offense, it’s going to make things very difficult.
The Thundering Herd won 8 games, including a C-USA regular season ending win at FIU, which cost the Panthers a spot in the title game. They are going to be tough opponent.
Something’s Gotta Give with the Run game
The Bulls have an outstanding running attack led by former Florida Gator transfer Jordan Cronkrite and small speedster Johnny Ford (above) as a one-two punch in their backfield. They combined 1,832 rushing yards and eight combined 100 yard rushing games. It’s the Bulls best chance to move the ball and score.
However, USF is going against one of the best run defenses in college football. The Thundering Herd are ranked 9th nationally (103.9 yards per game) against the run per game. As we laid out above, it’s already going to be an inexperienced backup quarterback that’s like they’re going to be out there for the Bulls.
So, if Marshall contains Cronkite and Ford it’s big trouble for the Bulls.
Battle the elements
Usually bowl games in Florida are a selling point, but the weather has not cooperated the last couple of days in Tampa. Reports are that over an inch of rain has fallen continuously on Thursday alone.
The good news is the field at Raymond James Stadium, where the Bulls and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play home games, is traditionally one of the better surfaces in football.
How much will footing be an issue due to the rain and the slick conditions?
It will be a factor, as rain is expected to fall throughout the game Thursday night.
Bulls OC Bell takes responsibility for shut out against Wisconsin
In Friday night’s opener against Big Ten perennial contender Wisconsin, the Bulls had suffered their worst loss in program history and left fans wondering what has caused such a downward spiral in the program over the last year and a half? And in a 49-0 loss, its hard to tell which side of the ball is a bigger struggle for the South Florida program?
While both looked alarmingly bad, the lack of offense was the ultimate reasoning behind the shut out, which led coordinator Kerwin Bell to taking full responsibility when speaking to the media on Wednesday.
— Joey Knight (@TBTimes_Bulls) September 4, 2019
“I’m the OC so I take all the blame, that’s all on my shoulders,” said Bell. “I’ve been in that position before, I’ve been shut out before, it didn’t feel good and surely last Friday night didn’t also. I was very disappointed in our performance. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Bell offered somewhat of an explanation as to why the team came out looking so ill-prepared and resembling every bit the team that lost their final six games last season. He said it’s the style of offense he’s introducing and that it takes time to get a team fully acclimated to it, which is not a new feat for him.
“This system is a little bit different than what everybody runs in college football, it’s more of a pro style. A lot of thinking, a lot of going through progressions and receivers changing their route on the run,” he added, “It takes a little bit of time and I’ve incorporated this thing 3 or 4 times now in new systems and we’ll be able to handle it. We’ll get up to speed, we just need some success with it.”
Bell also touched on the absence of USFs star slot receiver Johnny Ford. While there’s been no explanation to why he sat out of last weekends game, the Bulls play-caller did say that having him back will free up the rest of the offense in a major way.
“Johnny missing the game was big for us. We had a lot stuff on him to handle some of their man coverages. He’s a great man beater for us. With him being out it really put a lot of extra emphasis on other guys and he really frees up the team because he’s got so much ability running and catching the football.”
Bell, as head coach, led Valdosta State to an unbeaten season this past year and the Division II national championship. His offense at Valdosta led the nation in scoring (52.0 ppg), ranked second in first downs (341) and was fourth in total offense (523.9 ypg), red-zone offense (.901) and pass efficiency (167.37).
He has been around the block, coaching at various levels of college ball plus the CFL and high school. In addition to his many stops along the way as a coach, he also carved out a professional playing career which lasted over a decade.
Although he may have a history of offensive success, he’ll have a short timeline to start seeing success under head coach Charlie Strong or it may be a foregone conclusion before USF ever begins American Conference play, that this will be Strong’s final year and would likely Bells, as well.
Bulls QB Barnett will maintain starting spot against Georgia Tech
After the Bulls opened their season with the worst loss in USF football history against Wisconsin this past weekend, a lot of criticism has been directed at the two predominant faces of the program, head coach Charlie Strong and starting QB Blake Barnett. However, there will be no apparent changes to the make-up of this team any time soon. Strong announced Monday that Barnett will still be the “go to” guy to lead his offense.
Bulls beat writer Joey Knight reported from Strong’s press conference Monday afternoon.
Strong says Barnett still is his guy. Indicated dropped passes, failure to spring run game led to his struggles. "For (the first) two series, he looked really good." #USF
— Joey Knight (@TBTimes_Bulls) September 2, 2019
Strong indicated that it was the initial two dropped passes by Jernard Phillips and Michigan transfer Eddie McDoom along with the failure to spring the run game that set then tone for the offensive failure on Friday night.
Still, Barnett was only 13-for-30 for 109 yards, two interceptions, a fumble, and three sacks. The Bulls had 157 total yards on the night with 40 of those yards coming on their final drive of the game, as they were already down 49-0. The loss makes this the 7th in a row for the Bulls, and fans continuing to question wether 23-year-old veteran quarterback has what it takes to turn the program around.
South Florida’s other option would be redshirt freshman Jordan McCloud, a Tampa native who as senior, completed 160 of 295 passes for 2,426 yards and 26 touchdowns. He led Sickles High School to a 12-2 record, district and regional titles, and a trip to the state semifinals in 2018.
At this point, the Bulls don’t really have much to lose by giving McCloud some playing time. He may be able to spark USF, where Barnett clearly has not been able to since last October. Clearly, if Barnett struggles again, then McCloud will likely see some action Saturday.
USF will play at Georgia Tech next Saturday, which has a new coach and was blown out by Clemson to start the season. And, the Bulls defeated the Jackets in a wild 49-38 game a year ago.
And, if the Bulls are not better, or at least competitive with the Yellow Jackets, it may be a foregone conclusion before USF ever begins American Conference play, that this will be Strong’s final year.
And, anyone that wants to argue with that, should put in the tape and watch how poorly his recruits and his coaches performed Friday night, when they had everything pointing to a huge game at home with the Badgers for months.
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