Who:                   Tulsa Golden Hurricane vs. USF Bulls
What:                  FBS football game
When:                 Thursday, November 16th, 2017
Where:                Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
Why:                   USF is on a title run

The University of South Florida Bulls welcome the Tulsa Golden Hurricane to Raymond James Stadium on Thursday night for a primetime conference football game.  This will mark the second-ever meeting between the two programs, the first game having been a 38-30 USF win back in 2014.

The Golden Hurricane have a 2-8 (1-5) record this season, with wins over Louisiana and Houston.  The Houston upset was a dominating 45-17 performance by Tulsa, one that they have yet to duplicate, since.  Houston is not only the only conference win for Tulsa, but they are the only team to beat the Bulls, this season. 

But for an ill-timed field goal decision against the Cougars, USF would be undefeated rather than 8-1 (5-1).  The team has rebounded in the rankings after the loss, making the cut at #23 in the AP Poll and #20 in the Coaches’ Poll.  Despite the respect of those two polls, the team has yet to be included in any ranking published by the College Playoff Board.

USF Offense
The Bulls of 2017 are a milder breed than those of 2016, but not by much.  The 2017 version is ranked 11th in total offense and seventh in rushing offense, averaging 39 points and 277 rushing yards per game.  The running attack is a three-headed monster, led by running back, Darius Tice, with 87 yards per game and nine touchdowns on the season.  In the number two spot is quarterback, Quinton Flowers, who also has nine running touchdowns, with an average of 83 rushing yards per game.  Running back, D’Ernest Johnson rounds out the top three with 70 yards per game and seven touchdowns.  Tice and Flowers rank 42nd and 47th, nationally.

The passing game for USF isn’t as good.  They rank 69th in passing offense, averaging 226 yards per game.  Flowers accounts for most of that, throwing for 1955 yards and 15 touchdowns with four interceptions, this year.  In his last game against UConn, Flowers passed for 385 yards and ran for 131, racking up a program record 516 yards.  Receiver, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, has been the target of choice, with 720 yards on 44 catches, five going for touchdowns.  Tyre McCants, second on the team in catches, has less than half as many, (20). 

Tulsa Defense
The Bulls’ last opponent, UConn, ranked 129th in total defense, allowing 550 yards per game.  Tulsa is just one spot better, at 128th.  Their opponents manage 547 yards of offense and 38 points per game (121st).  They’re 128th against the run and 118th against the pass. 

It’s perhaps a telling since that a defensive back, McKinley Whitfield, leads the team with 95 tackles.  Defensive lineman, Jeremy Smith, has six sacks, more than half of the team’s total.  Six happens to be the same number of interceptions the entire team has. 

Tulsa Offense
The Golden Hurricane are a little better on offense than on defense.  They rank 37th in total offense, with 431 yards per game.  That’s due in large part to their 15th ranked running game, averaging 248 yards per game on the ground.  Tulsa already has a 1,000 yard rusher in senior running back, D’Angelo Brewer.  He leads the team running the ball, with 122 yards per game and eight touchdowns this season.  Fellow running back, Shamari Brooks, is second on the team, averaging 76 yards per game and finding the end zone ten times, thus far.  Tulsa quarterback, Chad President, also gets a share of carries, with nine running touchdowns and a 41 yard per game average.  President began the season as the starting quarterback, but is mostly used in running situations after losing the quarterback role to Luke Skipper.

The move to Skipper hasn’t played out the way that the staff had hoped.  In five games as a starter, he has thrown just three touchdowns and four interceptions.  President, before he lost the job, had two touchdowns and two interceptions.  Receivers, Justin Hobbs and Keenen Johnson, are the favorite targets.  Hobbs has 743 yards and two touchdowns for his 46 catches.  Johnson has 44 receptions, totaling 539 yards and one score.   The Tulsa offense managed just 14 points in their blowout loss to Memphis, who scored 41.           

USF Defense
On defense, the Bulls are much improved over last season.  They’re 19th, up from 120th in 2016.  They’re only giving up an average of 20 points per game (23rd).  They’re 15th against the rush, allowing just 118 yards per game on the ground.  Their passing game is their weakest link, allowing 202 yards per game (40th). 

A big part of the defensive improvement comes from turnovers.  USF is second in the nation in interceptions with 17 and fourth in turnover margin.  For the 17 turnovers gained, they’ve only given up 8.  Accounting for nearly a quarter of the team’s total is defensive back, Devin Abraham.  Abraham is followed by fellow defensive backs, Mazzi Wilkins and Deatrick Nichols, who have three picks apiece. 

Linebacker, Auggie Sanchez, finished 2016 with close to 120 total tackles, which ranked him 20th in the nation.  This season, he’s getting some help.  He still leads the team in tackles with 60 tackles.  But sharing the load are linebacker, Nico Sawtelle, and lineman, Deadrin Senat, who have 44 and 42 tackles respectively.    

Leading the team in sacks are defensive linemen, Bruce Hector and Mike Love.  The duo have 5.5 sacks, each, accounting for nearly half of the team’s total.  The Bulls rank 21st in the nation in sack totals and ninth in the nation in tackles for loss.

USF can and will run the ball at will against Tulsa, probably exceeding both teams’ season averages.  Tulsa will try to run against USF, but the Bulls won’t give up much, forcing the pass.  That means USF will give up some big plays, but likely take a share of them for interceptions.  The Tulsa defense is just too overmatched in this game, especially this late in the season when teams that lack depth suffer the bumps and bruises of a losing campaign. 

The game should not be close in any respects.   It is a matchup between the best and the worst of the conference and the results should reflect that.  And, the USF coaching staff might be thinking about making statements on national TV after being shunned by the College Football Playoff committee rankings for three straight weeks, despite being ranked in the other major polls. 

At present, USF are 22.5 point favorites at home.  ESPN’s Football Power Index calculates this to be an 84% chance of a win for the Bulls.  This game will be broadcast in primetime on ESPN, with kickoff at 7:30 PM, EST.  

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