Illinois heads into week 3 undefeated after a 20-7 victory over the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in Memorial Stadium. The Illini showed signs of improvement on defense, holding the highly touted WKU offense to only 244 yards of total offense. This week however, the task is even greater as the South Florida Bulls face the Fighting Illini in Tampa, FL on Friday night. Let’s take a look at USF:
Last Meeting/Series History
This will be the first ever meeting between Illinois and the South Florida Bulls.
South Florida is (2-12-0) against teams in the Big Ten Conference. The most recent meeting with a Big Ten opponent was in 2014, when the Wisconsin Badgers defeated the Bulls in Madison 27-10.
These Bulls can run.
Before the season started, we talked about Quinton Flowers and his ability to run the zone-read offense successfully. Through two games this season, Flowers shares the most carries for the Bulls. Running back Darius Tice is the other player tied for the lead in carries for USF (36), and the two have combined for 61.5% of South Florida’s rushing yards. The Bulls average 234 rushing yards per game so far this season, with the combination of Flowers, Tice, and senior running back D’Ernest Johnson leading the rushing attack for USF.
Another guy to keep an eye on is kicker Emilio Nadelman.
Yes, college kickers are highly unpredictable yada yada yada...not Emilio. This guy was a perfect 7 for 7 in field goals last season, converting 52 of 53 extra points in 2016. His longest make was from 49 yards in 2015, and it’s safe to assume Nadelman’s range now exceeds 50 yards. If Friday night is a close game, the Bulls can rest easy knowing the game is on Nadelman’s right foot.
Converting on third and fourth down.
While the offense does a great job of racking up yards, USF has only been mediocre at converting on third and fourth down. Last week’s conversion percentage was a solid 50%, but their season opener against a D1 opponent only saw the Bulls convert 3 of 19 third downs (15.7%).
Getting the big stop.
Opposing teams have not only had an average third down conversion percentage of 32%, but the Bulls have not been able to prevent teams from scoring when they enter the red-zone. One of the contributing factors of their opponent’s success has been the Bulls inability to rush the passer. USF sacks an opponent 1.95% of the time on passing plays this season, giving opposing quarterbacks enough time to make their reads.
What We’re Concerned About
South Florida’s ability to take the ball away.
Since this is Illinois’ first road game of the season, there is going to be a need for quarterback Chayce Crouch to remain composed when under pressure. While the Bulls have not proven they can get to opposing quarterbacks, their secondary has intercepted 5 passes so far this season. Crouch has a tendency to throw into double coverage or worse, and there’s a good chance one of those passes will be intercepted on Friday night.
Why We’re Not Worried
Illinois can defend against the run.
Through two games this season, Illinois has faced teams that run the football roughly 42.7% of the time. With an average gain of 2.6 yards per carry, there’s some confidence that the Illinois defense can hang with the South Florida rushing attack. Considering that South Florida runs the ball 71.84% of the time, there’s no doubt the Bulls will have to throw the ball successfully if they’re going to solve the Illinois defense.