Start Time: 7:30 PM EST, Thursday, November 26
Location: Bright House Networks Stadium, Orlando, Florida.
Live Stats: Here
Series: South Florida leads 4-2, but UCF has won the two most recent meetings.
What a difference a year makes.
In last season's iteration of the War on I-4, the Central Florida Knights blanked the South Florida Bulls in a 16-0 victory, marking the first time that the Bulls had been shut out at home.
Fast forward to this year, where you have a complete reversal of fortune. The Bulls (7-4) enter tomorrow's primetime ESPN matchup winners of three straight (six of seven overall) and need a win plus a Temple loss for a spot in the AAC Championship Game. On the other side, you have the 0-11 UCF Knights, who have looked hapless all season long. A rash of injuries and roster turnover has led to much of the problems for the Knights, who can't seem to catch a break.
So, with the Bulls rolling and UCF just trying to make it to the end of the season, should we expect an easy USF win or can the Knights pull themselves together long enough to spoil their in-state rival's championship run?
Hey, look at UCF getting two straight ESPN primetime games! Unfortunately for the Knights, the results will probably look a lot like last week's beat down against ECU. The Knights brought their particular brand of ineptitude against the Pirates, getting badly outgained 619 to 232. They scored on their opening drive to go up 7-0 on ECU, but then the wheels came off. The Pirates scored 44 unanswered points to cruise to the win, but the loss wasn't the only one on the night for UCF. Justin Holman sprained his ankle and is questionable tomorrow against the Bulls, which is par for the course for UCF. Without Holman, the Knights will be forced to go with either redshirt freshman Tyler Harris or Bo Schneider at quarterback. Harris was bad against ECU, going 2-12 for 21 yards before being replaced by Schneider, who completed a grand total of zero passes. Whoever gets the start under center, they should probably get the ball to Tre'Quan Smith as much as possible. Smith has been the Knights' best weapon this season, compiling 45 catches for 622 yards and four touchdowns.
Even if by some miracle the Knights find a scoring punch tomorrow, the defense is won't be able to hold off the Bulls. The Knights have allowed an obscene amount of points and yards on the season, with opponents averaging 37.1 points and 465 yards per game. That's bad news against the red hot Bulls, whose one two punch of Marlon Mack and Quinton Flowers can run over even a stout defense.
Over the past three games, the Bulls have totally shut down ECU, Temple and Cincinnati en route to a three game winning streak. They choked out the Pirate offense in a rainstorm in Greenville, followed that up with a signature win at home over #21 Temple, and then completely demolished Cincinnati last week, leading 51-3 at the half before winning 65-27.
Mack and Flowers have gotten most of the praise and attention during the streak, and rightfully so with their numbers. However, the USF defense has been the lynchpin to their success. The Bulls held the Pirates to just 17 points and 62 rushing yards, played the highly rated Temple defense to a draw in their win over the Owls, and totally shut down a high powered Cincinnati offense early on, forcing six Bearcat turnovers to seize momentum.
USF's front seven, led by Auggie Sanchez (96 total tackles), Bruce Hector (4 sacks) and Eric Lee (9 TFL), is playing lights out right now. With the front seven living in the UCF backfield, Jamie Byrd and the rest of the Bulls' secondary should have a pretty easy time cleaning up after them.
The Bulls won't need anywhere close to the type of effort we've become accustomed to seeing from them tomorrow against the punchless Knights, but that doesn't mean they won't be ready to play. Head coach Willie Taggart has done a fabulous job of keeping his team focused on the task at hand, which has them on the doorstep of the AAC Championship Game. The Bulls have shown that they're more than capable of taking away what the opposition does best (which in the case of the Knights is nothing), while simultaneously being overwhelming on offense. With the USF defense able to completely shut down the UCF offense and Mack and Flowers running and throwing at will against UCF's porous defense, the Bulls will get revenge for last season's shut out with one of their own tomorrow.
South Florida 56 - Central Florida 0