South Florida limps into PJCS Saturday afternoon.
Louisville's plans Saturday vs. USF is to stop B.J. Daniels
The Bulls have lost four straight games heading into Saturday's Big East contest against No. 16 Louisville, and the Bulls have won just one league game the past two years. Skip Holtz is on the hot-seat and USF appears an easy mark for the Cardinals, who have won 11 of the past 13 games under Charlie Strong's guidance.
But Strong's Cardinals aren't taking the Bulls, who they beat 34-22 in the regular-season finale last year, lightly. That's because USF has enough talent to beat anyone in the Big East. The biggest reason Louisville can't sleep on the struggling Bulls this week? B.J. Daniels, USF's erratic, but multitalented senior quarterback. A dual-threat, Daniels can hurt foes with his arm or legs. He ranks third in USF history in passing (7,892 yards and 48 TD's) and is fourth in career rushing yards with 1,911 yards. His 24 rushing TD's are tied for first in USF history.
Daniels, however, is a two-edged sword for USF. Though athletically gifted and capable of producing big plays with his passing or running, Daniels has a tendency to give opponents extra possessions. Daniels has thrown 37 career interceptions, including eight this season. For the season, USF is minus 11 on turnovers -- a big reason they haven't won since early September.
"They're a great team," UofL safety Hakeem Smith. "They've been losing because of their big turnovers. We see that. If we capitalize on any of those turnovers we should see victory in this game."
USF is coming off a bye week after losing to Temple 37-28 two weeks ago to fall to 0-2 in the Big East. Daniels was hampered by an ankle injury in that contest, but should be closer to form against the Cardinals.
"He's better," USF offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said. "It's one of those deals that kind of lingers. He was probably 75 percent [in our last game] and is probably better this week with the bye week. We certainly hope he's ready to go full speed."
Daniels is most dangerous when he is outside of the pocket and can either throw or run. That's why Louisville wants to keep him in the pocket -- to take away his running ability.
"We can't underestimate B.J. Daniels," said Smith. "He's a great quarterback who loves to escape the pocket all the time. We've got to have the safeties stay back and the linemen stay outside to keep BJ from getting outside the pocket. He's a dual-threat quarterback and he's very hard to defend. We've just got to focus on him."
Hakeem Smith knows Daniels will challenge the Cardinals defense
"I think he's a guy that can beat us on the edges," junior defensive tackle Roy Philon said. "So we've just got to contain him."
Even with their turnover struggles, USF's offense is formidable with Daniels in the lineup. The Bulls rank fifth in the Big East in scoring offense (25.2), fifth in total offense (401.3), fourth in rushing offense (147.5), and third in passing (253.8). The Bulls rank second in the league behind UofL in Red Zone offense, scoring 94 percent of their opportunities. The problem, though, has been turnovers, which has limited USF to just 16 Red Zone scoring chances, second-worst in the Big East.
“South Florida is an outstanding football team," Charlie Strong said. "They haven’t played as well as they’re capable of playing. I look at that team and I think about us a year ago. We were 2-4 and had Rutgers coming here. Now they’re 2-4 and coming on the road against us. We cannot have a letdown because it’s a very competitive league and you have to be prepared every week."
“We know South Florida is going to be another challenge for us. They are extremely talented and a team that has a lot of seniors. We can’t lose our focus..we have to execute and finish. Each game in this league is going to be very competitive. We have to take one game at a time and can’t worry about what is in front of us.”
“The talent is there it’s all about them playing together. The quarterback [BJ Daniels] is extremely talented. He runs and throws the ball very well. It’s all about them coming together and playing together for that football team.”
Though Strong's defense has received criticism for their play this season, the Cardinals still rank 24th nationally in total defense, 26th nationally in run defense and 34th nationally in scoring defense. Still, Strong's defense has room to grow with USF on tap next. Louisville struggled earlier this season with their inability to register sacks, but the Cards notched a season-high five last week at Pittsburgh. UofL also needs to shore up their pass defense, which ranks 48th nationally. The Cardinals secondary also has recorded just one interception in the first half of the season, the second-lowest total in the conference.
"They're a defense that has good team speed," said Fitch. "I think they're doing a nice job with their depth. They're deep up front with their defensive line and keeping people fresh. They're a pressure oriented defense and they try to get you behind the chains. They bring a lot of different looks and pressures and try to confuse your….quarterback. But their athleticism is what jumps off the screen. They have a lot of people that run to the ball well."
Bowl eligible for the third straight year under Charlie Strong, Louisville has their sights firmly set on winning the Big East and playing in a BCS bowl game this post-season.
"We're trying to remain focused," Smith said. "This is a big game for us to continue our streak and go to 2-0 [in league play]. You have to be 7-0 before you can go 8-0 so everybody is buckling down and they're getting into it. Everybody is feeling it, but we take it a game at a time. That's all we've got to worry about.
"It's good to be back home," Philon said. "We've been on the road for the last month. It feels good to go back into our stadium - the Oven - and get ready to show up. We've got to take it one game at time and keep practicing, keep working and try to get No. 7. It feels good to be where we are but we still have a lot of work left to do."