FACTS & STATS: Site: Raymond James Stadium (65,857) — Tampa, Florida.
Television: ESPNews. Home Record: Houston 3-2, South Florida 2-3. Away Record:
Houston 1-1, South Florida 1-2. Neutral Record: Houston 0-0, South Florida
0-0. Conference Record: Houston 2-1, South Florida 2-2. Series Record: South
Florida leads, 2-1.
GAME NOTES: The Houston Cougars have won back-to-back games for the first time
this season, and they’ll shoot for a third straight as they travel to face the
South Florida Bulls in an American Athletic Conference clash Saturday.
Houston began the season with a 2-3 mark, but has since won two straight
against conference opponents Memphis and Temple to earn the winning record.
Currently a game behind both East Carolina and UCF in the AAC standings, the
Cougars will try to pull closer toward the top of the league.
South Florida is coming off a loss to conference foe Cincinnati, 34-17, which
means the Bulls have dropped three of their last four games played. They
return home this weekend from a two-game road trip, and after this contest
they’ll hit the road for two more games against SMU and Memphis.
The Bulls own a slight 2-1 advantage over the Cougars in the all-time series.
The last time these teams met was a year ago, when Houston easily handled USF,
Houston didn’t have much trouble in the team’s 31-10 victory over Temple two
weeks ago. The team is coming off a bye week, which means an extra week of
preparation and rest has the Cougars raring to go, especially with a win
streak on the line. Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. had a stellar game against the
Owls on Oct. 17, passing for 268 yards and two touchdowns with no
interceptions, adding 44 yards on the ground. Going against a USF pass defense
that has allowed 11 scores through the air this season should have the signal
caller feeling pretty confident about the upcoming matchup.
Ward replaced John O’Korn under center early in October, and the results have
been more along the lines of what coach Tony Levine has been looking for. In
seven games, Ward has completed over 70 percent of his pass attempts for 580
yards and three touchdowns against just one interception. He’s adept in the
run game as well, with 192 yards and two touchdowns on 46 carries. He’s helped
his Cougars average 28.1 ppg and 381.1 offensive ypg this season.
Houston’s run game has played well this season also, led by Ryan Jackson and
Kenneth Farrow, who combined for 122 yards and a touchdown against Temple last
time out. Through seven contests, the run game is averaging 158.9 ypg and has
scored 12 touchdowns on the ground (with Farrow leading the charge at four
Aside from a 33-25 loss to then-No. 25 BYU, the Cougars haven’t surrendered
more than 24 points to an opponent this season. The team is averaging 17.9 ppg
allowed, and has recorded 14 interceptions on the season, which puts Houston
in a tie for third in the FBS with Boise State. In fact, the Cougars rank
third in the country in turnovers gained with 23 total (nine fumble
recoveries), so forcing South Florida into making mistakes will be a key
aspect in trying to take down the Bulls on the road.
Five Houston players are tied for the team lead with two interceptions apiece.
Efrem Oliphant is one of those players, adding a team-best 74 tackles and five
tackles for loss to his 2014 stat line. Oliphant’s lead in tackles is firmly
implanted, considering Derrick Mathews (52 stops) is the next closest. The
Cougars need to get after the opposing quarterback more. The team has recorded
just 13 sacks in seven games, compared to 17 sacks on Houston quarterbacks by
USF was essentially inactive during the second and third quarters of its loss
to Cincinnati last weekend. The Bulls were outscored 10-0 in the middle
quarters, and could only manage a field goal in the first period to
effectively bury their hopes of a win. Quarterback Mike White was extremely
unproductive in the game, passing for 92 yards and two interceptions on 19
pass attempts. Steven Bench, on the other hand, played well with his 14 pass
tries, throwing for two touchdowns and 147 yards.
Bench has only played in three games this season compared to eight for White,
though it’s unclear which player will be the guy under center this weekend for
Willie Taggart’s squad. Either way, the Bulls have been an underperforming
team on offense for the whole season. The team is averaging a pedestrian 21.1
ppg and 307.5 offensive ypg in eight contests. White has a completion
percentage under 49 percent, and owns a 6-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio,
which might make a quarterback switch for Taggart a serious concept about
which he must think.
Marlon Mack has been about as consistent an offensive player as anyone on the
Bulls. The running back only managed 54 yards against Cincinnati, but still
has scored eight touchdowns rushed for 781 yards on 145 carries for an average
of 97.6 ypg. Outside of Mack, the run game hardly exists for the Bulls, who
average 119 rushing ypg as a unit.
Playing in a tough AAC and then having to deal with a strong non-conference
schedule has helped jack up South Florida’s points allowed statistic
defensively. The Bulls are allowing opponents to score 29.6 ppg and average
438.6 offensive ypg through eight games played. Even in the team’s most recent
win over Tulsa, the Golden Hurricane were still able to post 30 points in the
Jamie Byrd leads USF with 61 tackles on the season, and has a tackle for loss
and an interception to add to his resume. But the real standouts on the
defensive side of the ball have been Nigel Harris (52 tackles, seven tackles
for loss, two sacks, five forced fumbles) and Reshard Cliett (18 tackles, four
sacks, one forced fumble). They’ve been able to disrupt an opponent with
pressure, either on the quarterback or in the backfield. They’ll be focusing
on the athletic Ward under center for Houston.
Having the home advantage helps out, but the Bulls still have a losing record
at Raymond James Stadium this season. Houston should be able to get the job
done with a versatile run game and a consistent, accurate passer under center
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Houston 32, South Florida 23