Date: Saturday, September 22nd
Kickoff Time: 8 p.m. EST
TV: ESPN News
Betting Line: USF -22.5, FPI: 86.6%
Series Record: USF leads 7-1 and is on a three-game winning streak.
Last Meeting: USF won 61-31 on September 30th, 2017
USF put a scare in AAC fans’ hearts when they traveled up to Soldier Field and scraped by with a win against Illinois. While the Illini are much improved from last year, they are still a far cry from being a top-tier P5 school.
Offensively, it seemed like things were just off. Between Barnett missing throws he usually makes and the countless penalties keeping USF in third and forever situations, it was no surprise that the offense was continually stalling out. In addition, we got to see the old Sterlin Gilbert play calling that we continually question and special teams miscues galore. Despite all of that, the USF offense still had a pretty good day. Even though there were only 25 points scored, Barnett threw for over 400 yards and was name co-offensive player of the week, while Jordan Cronkrite lead USF on the ground by rushing for 136 yards. All the receivers were involved in this game, but the biggest highlight was the trio of Randall St. Felix (120 yards), Mitchell Wilcox (109 yards), and Darnell Salomon (95 yards) all making big plays when USF needed them the most. At the end of the day, USF was able to overcome what was widely perceived as a bad offensive day despite the team totaling 626 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball, USF has been clutch. While Charlie Strong noted that the defense was out of position, the defense actually played pretty decently. Stopping the run continued to be a challenge for the defense as they allowed 212 yards on the ground even when the Bulls knew the rush was coming. However, the defensive line was once again incredible and even was able to generate a turnover. It appears the Bulls haven’t taken a step back here. Overall, the Bulls are only allowing 23.7 points per game and have shown that they can still play pretty solid defense.
I have a few keys this week that USF is going to have to follow in order to win against ECU.
- Sterlin Gilbert needs to get back to Georgia Tech play calling. The Illinois game play calling was terrible. I was legitimately scared that Illinois was going to defeat the Bulls. He called two great halves in his time here: vs. UCF and vs. Georgia Tech. I want to see that again because that is the recipe for this team to succeed.
- Strong running game. Jordan Cronkrite should be the undisputed starter after what he did at Illinois. He is a strong north-south runner that can churn out big yards for USF. After that, I think someone needs to establish themselves as the second back. If Duran Bell is back from injury, it looks like he might be second in command.
- The defense has to be able to stop the run. ECU has some pretty decent backs and will sometimes bring in Holten Ahlers to run some QB designed runs. They have to be prepared for this.
- Special teams has to be better. Charlie needs to stick with one kicker and one kicker only. This revolving door does not do anyone from this unit any good.
- Don’t underestimate this team. They’re coming off an unexpected bye week and put a pretty good beating on UNC. They may have lost to an FCS team, but we do not know what kind of ECU we will end up seeing
ECU got an unexpected bye week after Hurricane Florence cancelled a plethora of games, including their game against Virginia Tech. They took the time to go down to Orlando and practice in Florida for the past 10 days. Last week was a huge success for ECU. They did not have to get obliterated by Virginia Tech and they got extra practice time. The only thing that did not go ECU’s way, this past week, was the possibility of a hurricane putting players’ families in danger.
It is possible that this week could go two ways for ECU. The first possibility, is ECU comes out strong after plenty of rest days and having their sole focus on beating USF. The second possibility is going in the opposite direction where they come out flat and fail to put up a decent fight. It is always tough to see how a team will perform after a bye week, especially a team like ECU that came off a major high.
There are three keys in particular if ECU wants any chance of winning this game.
- Holten Ahlers needs to be a huge part of this game. The true freshman does not throw the ball a whole lot. However, with his large frame, he is a perfect candidate for the QB designed run options, as he is really difficult to tackle. We highlighted him as one of the newcomers that could make a difference immediately. He sure has made a difference so far and I expect him to make a difference in this game.
- Pound the rock. The one weakness so far that USF has struggled with is run defense. While the defensive line has been playing great, Charlie Strong has been complaining that some defensive players were out of position these first three games. ECU should take advantage while USF is still trying to figure things out early on.
- Defense has to keep it close. If ECU can at least limit USF’s athleticism, similar to Illinois, they have a shot.
I think USF will come out firing and will make a statement after a careless game against Illinois. The defense will generate a few turnovers, but will give up a couple big plays. Blake Barnett should continue his renaissance season against a shaky Pirates defense.
USF 45 ECU 21