clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

East Carolina @ USF: Q&A with

The Pirates seek to snap three-game skid as they head to Tampa

NCAA Football: South Florida at Cincinnati
East Carolina and USF will meet for the seventh time this weekend. The Bulls hold a 5-1 lead in the all-time series.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Following three straight losses, East Carolina heads to USF seeking to snap its current skid with the first road victory of the Scottie Montgomery Era.

The Pirates are nearly a three touchdown underdog against the talented Bulls and may be going into the game without multiple starters.

Today, we're joined by Collin Sherwin of The Daily Stampede—USF's SB Nation Community—as we take a more in-depth look at USF and what to expect as we head into Saturday's match-up.

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

After managing just six wins in his first two seasons (2-10, 4-8), Willie Taggart led the program to 8 wins last year and the Bulls are off to a strong 4-1 start this season.

Discuss the development of the program under the fourth-year head coach.'s Collin Sherwin:

It wasn’t some slow burn: USF got good all at once. You can basically pinpoint the play where everything flipped: a second-half gadget play against Syracuse in 2015. From that point forward, USF has been putting 40+ points on people on the regular.

Since Taggart got to USF, the recruiting has picked up to the top of the Group of Five, and ahead of a lot of Power Five schools as well. What happened last year is the scheme finally began to mesh with the talent, and instead of running a Stanford-style power run game, they became more of a modern spread look.

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

When Taggart arrived following his successful head coaching stint at WKU, he employed a "power run game" approach that he had used with the Hilltoppers and had learned during his time as an assistant with Jim Harbaugh at Stanford.

After a lack of success with that system, he has since moved to what I've heard some refer to as "The Gulf Coast Offense".

With the likes of quarterback Quinton Flowers, running back Marlon Mack, and wide receiver Rodney Adams, the unit is putting up 45.8 points per game and one of the nation's most potent offenses.

Talk about that scheme change and why you believe it has been successful.'s Collin Sherwin:

USF finally decided to stop trying to jam a square peg in a round hole. Florida is blessed with so many skill position athletes that are just better than what most defenses can stop. So they finally let those guys make plays with the ball and “attack space” instead of trying to hit people in the mouth & run “power” over and over.

We grow speed on trees down here, and it just make sense to scheme to the talent instead of having the talent adjust to the scheme.

I think if Coach Taggart had it to do over again, he’d of been running something like the “Gulf Coast Offense” a heckuva lot sooner. Also this offseason (before the issues) USF’s coaches went to Baylor to pick up some ideas. You’ll see them implemented in what they’re doing now, and it’s been a real boost to the playbook.

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

Outside of the production of Flowers, Mack and Adams, who are some other threats on the offensive side of the ball that ECU needs to be familiar with?'s Collin Sherwin:

Our current man-crush is Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who might be the most complete receiver in program history. He’s just starting to get the ball more, but his combination of size, speed, hands, route-running, and particularly blocking is really impressive. He’s an NC State transfer that came home.

Where USF really beats you is with depth. Second-string RB Darius Tice is likely out for the season with a broken ankle, but when you have Marlon Mack and D’Ernest Johnson still, it’s not a death blow. There are receivers like Ryeshene Brosnon, Tyre McCants, and Chris Barr that can all make plays in single coverage, and they get a lot of it due to Adams & Mack. And that’s before you get to the tight end duo of Elkanah Dillon and Mitchell Wilcox.

It’s the best offense in USF history, and it’s been a joy to watch.

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

Defensively, the Bulls are surrendering 218 yards per contest on the ground. FSU rushed for 478 yards and Dalvin Cook erupted for 267 of those.

Talk about that performance and the USF defense overall. It seems as though outside of that game that the unit hasn't been that bad.

What is the unit's strength(s)? What is the biggest weakness? Who are some of the top individual playmakers?'s Collin Sherwin:

The defense has been an issue, and is the biggest cause for concern on this team. For six quarters (the four vs. FSU, and the first half of Cincinnati), it was full-on panic from USF fans. They couldn’t stop anything, particularly any kind of run outside the tackles. Guys were getting pancaked and couldn’t get off blocks, and there was no speed to the ball, which should be a strength with the athletes and 4-2-5 scheme they run.

They showed some life forcing some turnovers and getting pressure against Cincinnati in the second half, but the jury is still out. Look out for Nigel Harris & Auggie Sanchez at the two linebacker spots. If they’re getting tackles for loss and make plays in the open field, USF should be in good shape.

The Bulls have to find a way to get pressure with just four rushers. They use a lot of depth up front, but sometimes can get stifled, especially when trying to turnstile the tackles.

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

East Carolina's poor performance--and that's an understatement--on special teams has been well documented. The Pirates have surrendered kickoff returns of 80 and 100-plus yards, had multiple chip shot field goals blocked, had a punt returned 87 yards for a touchdown, struggled to generate anything in either return game and had a punt blocked.

Punt returner D'Ernest Johnson has taken one back for a touchdown this season and Rodney Adams has a kick return of more than 50 yards.

Outside of their production, talk about the Bulls' special teams and how they have performed thus far?'s Collin Sherwin:

Special teams have simply been lights out. By S&P, USF is 15th on offense nationally, 80th on defense, and 16th on special teams. Large Adult Punter Jonathan Hernandez has been booming kicks and pinning people with frightening regularity, and kicker Emilio Nadelman hasn’t missed a field goal or extra point yet.

As for the returns, the one D’Ernest housed was against Syracuse, who is just not very good at all at anything besides whatever Eric Dungey is doing. The Bulls have the ability to take it to the paint on kicks with their speed, but where you’ll really see them make plays is kicking it themselves.

With the success they’ve had so far this year, and ECU’s lack of it, you can bet the Bulls willl be trying to make plays in the kicking game this week.

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

With the way ECU has been exposed during its current three-game losing streak, it's hard to imagine the Pirates going to Tampa and being competitive against a very strong USF team.

What are your expectations and prediction for Saturday's game now that USF officials have said the game will be played as scheduled?'s Collin Sherwin:

I tend to agree. ECU hit the reset button when they fired Ruffin McNeil (a decision that to us seemed questionable at best), and doesn’t have the talent matched up to what they want to do long-term.

USF has put all the pieces together after a much-longer-than-necessary dark period. They just have it rolling right now, and should keep it going on Homecoming. Whatever travel plans that have to be changed by the Pirates due to the storm can’t make things any easier.

The spread is 20, and I think the Bulls cover comfortably. USF 55, ECU 23.