Who: USF Bulls vs. UConn Huskies
What: FBS Football Game
When: 3:30 PM November 4th, 2017
Where: Pratt & Whitney Stadium, Hartford, CT
Why: American Athletic Conference game
The recently beaten and now unranked USF Bulls hit the road to face the Huskies of the University of Connecticut on Saturday in a game postponed by Hurricane Irma. The game marks the 13th all-time matchup between the programs, a series beginning in 2000. USF holds an 8-5 edge, winning the past four years in a row. The two teams usually play a close scoring game, with an average point difference of less than four points since the series began.
UConn brings a 3-5 (2-3) record into the game, with their two conference wins coming over Tulsa and Temple by a five point average margin of victory. The only other win for the Huskies this season was a way-to-close 27-20 victory over Holy Cross in the first game of the season, which marked the return of head coach, Randy Edsall. Edsall rejoined the program after an unsuccessful run as head coach of Maryland.
USF is 7-1 (4-1), with their sole loss of the season coming last week in the literal last minute of the game to Houston. The upset by the Cougars dropped USF from the AP top 25 and has put the team’s dreams of New Year’s Day glory in jeopardy. Even so, if they can avoid looking past UConn, they still will have a chance to play for the conference title, something the program has never done.
In 2016, USF ranked 4th in scoring offense and 9th in rushing offense. That fact, combined with the return of many seniors, led many to believe they’d be in for a big year. It’s a different coaching staff and a different result on offense, this year. They are currently ranked 16th, but against a much weaker schedule and their last opponent, Houston, ended USF’s NCAA record setting streak of games scoring 30 points or more at 24.
Still, the Bulls rank in the top ten in rushing, averaging 284 yards per game. That ground game is a committee made up of running backs, Darius Tice and D’Ernest Johnson, with major contributions by quarterback, Quinton Flowers. Tice is averaging just under 91 yards a game with nine touchdowns. Flowers also has nine rushing scores, averaging 77 yards per game. Johnson carries 75 yards per game with six touchdowns of his own.
In his last outing against Houston, Flowers passed for 325 yards, which wouldn’t be indicative of the 82nd worst passing game in the country. What Houston did, though, was take away the run, forcing the pass, and exposing a weakness. Flowers, who has 12 passing touchdowns and just three interceptions on the season, was not able to find the end zone a single time against the Cougars.
The Bulls will get a break after scoring their lowest point total in the past 25 games. UConn is ranked 123rd in scoring defense, giving up and average of more than 38 points a game. They’re giving up 170 yards rushing per game (72nd) almost 378 yards passing per game, which is the worst in the nation by more than 50 yards per game.
Linebackers, Junior Joseph, and Vontae Diggs, lead the team in total tackles, with 68 and 53, respectively. As a team, they have 18 sacks, led by lineman, Cole Ormsby’s 6, which ranks him 24th in the nation (tied). Defensive back, Tyler Coyle, has half of the team’s four interceptions. In their last game, the Huskies gave up 52 points to 3-5 Missouri, whose other two wins came against Missouri State and Idaho.
Far from good, the UConn offense fares better than their defense. Averaging 25 points per game, they’re ranked 85th, nationally. They’re good for 143 yards per game on the ground (101st) and a respectable 292 yards through the air (22nd), per game.
Their passing game is led by senior quarterback, Bryant Shirreffs, who is averaging 269 yards per game, with 13 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Receivers, Hergy Mayala and Arkeel Newsome, are averaging 16 and 18 yards per catch, respectively. Those numbers are indicative of big plays, the kind that net big yards which support UConn’s 6th in the nation, 19 passes for more than 30 yards. Newsome is tied for 23rd in the nation for catches of 30 yards or more.
Earlier in the season, it looked like USF had drastically improved on their 92nd ranked scoring defense of 2016. First year head coach, Charlie Strong, was given a lot of credit for the improvement. After spending some time in the top ten defenses, the Bulls have dropped dramatically to 26th in scoring defense, against a schedule that has only one team with a winning record. They’re still holding their opponents to less than 20 points per game, which is going to be good enough in most games where their offense is playing well.
They still rank in the top ten on rushing defense (9), allowing 284 rushing yards per game. They are allowing 204 passing yards per game, but have stolen 16 passes for interceptions, for which they rank #1 in the nation. Defensive backs, Devin Abraham and Mazzi Wilkins, have four and three picks, respectively. Abraham is tied for 5th, nationally, and Wilkins is tied for 22nd.
Linebacker, Auggie Sanchez, leads the team in total tackles with 57, a role resumed from 2016. As a team, USF is ranks 17th in total sacks, with defensive linemen, Mike Love and Bruce Hector, leading the team with 4.5 and 4 sacks. The USF defense has allowed 28 points in their past two games.
UConn’s defense is giving up, on average, about what USF has been racking up on offense. Their passing offense doesn’t offer much to slow down the Bulls, either. Where the Huskies can make it a game is by accurately throwing the ball, which Shirreffs has shown an ability to do, with just four interceptions on the season. USF also needs to figure out a way to stay interested in four quarters of the football game. Averaging the points allowed by UConn and the average points scored by USF gives them a score around 39. Doing the same for UConn versus the USF defense gives them a score of about 23. Expect USF to play a little better than average, coming off a stinging loss at home, with a little more offense than their average and a little more defense.
Kickoff temperatures are expected to be near 60 degrees, which eliminates weather as a factor. USF is currently a 23.5 point favorite with a 91.3% ESPN prediction of a USF win. Kickoff is at 3:30 EDT. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPNU.