Location: Raymond James Stadium – Tampa, FL
Date: Saturday, November 3
Time: 2:30 p.m. CT
Records: Tulane 3-5 (2-2 AAC), South Florida 7-1 (3-1 AAC)
Betting Line: South Florida -7; O/U 59.5
All-Time Series: South Florida leads 1-0
Last Meeting: Tulane 28, South Florida 34 (Oct. 21, 2017)
Quick Hits: The Green Wave come into their second road test in as many weeks with little to discuss on the injury front. Quarterback Jonathan Banks is currently listed as questionable for Saturday’s game in Tampa for undisclosed reasons but this should make little difference as Justin McMillan is primed to make his second start as the team’s signal caller after a win a week ago.
USF may be without linebacker Nico Sawtelle for the matchup as he is nursing a shoulder injury. Sawtelle is responsible for 42 tackles this season along with two sacks. Other notable questionables for the game include running back Elijah Mack, linebacker David Small, receiver Randall St. Felix, and tight end Mitchell Wilcox.
From South Florida’s Perspective: The Bulls are coming off the heels of their first loss of the season at the hands of Houston; not necessarily a defeat to be ashamed of as the Cougars appear to be the class of the AAC West this year. Because of the defeat, USF is now out of the top 25 for the first time in nearly a month but that may not be a bad thing. Now without the pressure of maintaining a perfect record and holding a ranking, the Bulls are free to essentially cut loose against Tulane.
Junior quarterback Blake Barnett has done wonders for South Florida this season. Completing 62.7% of his throws for a total of 2,073 yards and 11 scores, Barnett seems poised to have another big day against a Green Wave defense that is allowing well over 250 yards through the air per contest. Through its first eight games, though, Tulane has intercepted as many passes meaning that Barnett will need to be wary of the Wave’s talented secondary. Donnie Lewis’ side of the field has been pretty quiet this year as the Green Wave corner has been avoided by many opposing passers (with good reason). Lewis, who has three picks and a touchdown, could easily add to Barnett’s eight interceptions if he isn’t careful.
Running back Jordan Cronkrite will see the bulk of the workload on the ground. The junior has touched the ball 130 times for 933 yards and seven touchdowns this year. Breathing room may not come as easy, however, as Tulane boasts two dynamic defensive lineman in Patrick Johnson and Robert Kennedy. The two have done a fine job clogging up running lanes this season. They have contributed to the Green Wave defense allowing just over 150 rushing yards per outing. Cronkrite’s matchup with the Tulane defensive front will be a key one in this game.
On the outside, the Bulls could be in trouble if Randall St. Felix doesn’t play. The freshman, who is dealing with a knee injury, is currently leading the club with 484 yards on 24 catches (that’s an average of over 20 yards per grab). His talents will be missed if he doesn’t suit up this weekend.
Behind him, Tyre McCants has proven to be just as effective. McCants has 42 catches (leads team) for 453 yards and two touchdowns. He, like the QB Barnett, will be looking to get the best of Tulane’s hard-hitting secondary. Safety Roderic Teamer is an absolute rocket on the back end and knows how to deliver punishing blows. Between him and Lewis, USF receivers like McCants will have their hands full.
Defensively, South Florida’s Khalid McGee is a scary safety/linebacker hybrid who is the team’s leading tackler with 71 total. McGee has also notched 1.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. That’s good news for the Bulls as Tulane comes in with one of the more dangerous rushing attacks in the American. After just putting up over 300 rush yards against Tulsa, the Wave will be looking for a repeat performance out of their committee of backs. If McGee can help render the Tulane option offense a one-trick pony, then South Florida could see smooth sailing.
From Tulane’s Perspective: Justin McMillan seems to be the spark the Green Wave offense needed. Last week against the Golden Hurricane, Tulane’s quarterback punched in two touchdowns on the ground and ran for 75 yards en route to the team’s victory. He will of course be looking for a similar performance this go around but one area that needs to see improvement is the passing game. McMillan only completed 10 passes (19 attempts) last week for not even 100 yards. Furthermore, Tulane as a team hasn’t connected for a passing touchdown since the loss in Cincinnati three weeks ago. If their air game can’t find traction against the Bulls it will be a long day.
Fortunately for the Green Wave, they have receivers more than capable of allowing that to happen. Terren Encalade has 459 yards and three touchdowns on 29 receptions this year while Darnell Mooney leads the team in yards (573) and scores (five). That being said, Mooney has had a quiet couple weeks, finishing with a mere 13 yards last game. He will need to come alive again this Saturday if Tulane’s offense wants to find the balanced air attack it will need to upset USF.
As far as the ground game goes, the Wave will want to build off their impressive outing from a week ago. Corey Dauphine broke 100 yards for the second time this year and when he does so Tulane is 2-0. Darius Bradwell is looking to make it seven straight games with a touchdown run and leads the team with 615 yards. Stephon Huderson and Amare Jones have proven to be a solid supporting cast behind these two and if they all can duplicate their play from Tulsa, South Florida’s defense could be in for a heyday.
Tulane’s own defense will look to get to Barnett often. They rank fourth in the American in sacks thanks in large part to Patrick Johnson and Robert Kennedy who, as mentioned prior, have been on a tear as of late. Johnson now has at least one sack in each of the last five games while Kennedy is responsible for 6.5 tackles for loss. Stopping USF’s Jordan Cronkrite will be key in slowing down the Bulls’ productive offense. Linebacker Zachery Harris will also play a major role in this department. Harris has 54 total tackles on the year.
One area to look for when Tulane is on defense, really when either team is, is third down. The Wave is tied with the Bulls (3rd in the AAC) in third down conversion percentage allowed. Both are yielding just a 40% conversion ratio. Whoever wins that battle may be the team that comes out on top in this one.
Final Thoughts: This matchup features two teams playing with two different and powerful motivators. The Bulls are irked after a loss last week and have heard the term “overrated” being tossed around since falling to one of the American’s best teams in Houston. Personally I still think USF is very good and very scary despite last week’s loss. They didn’t just stumble into 7-1 by chance.
Meanwhile Tulane has desperation on their side. The Wave are clamoring to snag bowl eligibility and know that one more loss will almost entirely kill the dream of that happening, especially with Houston still on the slate. An upset against USF this weekend isn’t absolutely required but would go a tremendously long way in getting them closer to that elusive bowl bid.
The question becomes which is the better motivator, anger or desperation? As much as Tulane needs this win, I find it difficult to pick against this South Florida team at home after a loss like last week’s.
Tulane 24 – South Florida 32