When UC Has The Football
Change is the name of the game for the Bearcat offense after the bye week. Out are RB Butler Benton and WR Marshawn Gilyard. Taking their place will be sophomore RB Jacob Ramsey and either Charley Howard or Armon Binns at WR. Ramsey is a true big play threat in the backfield, but had a lot to learn in terms of pass protection and fine tuning his all around game. It seems Coach Kelly feels confident he's made those improvements and has earned his shot.
Gilyard is an electric athlete, but he hasn't been productive on an every snap basis. My guess is Howard is given the first crack at being his replacement. He's a superb route runner with great hands, and he should help the Cats move the chains on a more frequent basis.
The Bulls have a superb trio of seniors on the defensive unit led by MLB Ben Moffitt. He's a fast and explosive player that can go sideline to sideline as well as wreak havoc in an opponent's backfield. He has recorded 11 tackles for loss on the season and also leads the Bulls in tackles with 71. CBs Trae Williams and Mike Jenkins create one of the best cover corner units in the nation. Dominick Goodman and Marcus Barnett are going to have to be precise in their route running and Ben Mauk is going to have to deliver the ball with perfect placement and timing to avoid more costly turnovers that have hurt the Bearcats in their two game losing streak.
The Bearcat tackles will have yeoman's work to do against sophomore DE George Selvie. His 13.5 sacks lead the nation, and he is aiming for the Big East record of 20 set by Elvis Dumerville of Louisville. The best way to offset the Bulls front seven is to run the ball right at them. We will see if Jacob Ramsey is the man for the job early and often in this one.
When USF Has The Ball
Matt Grothe leads the Bulls attacks and he's a threat with his arms and legs. In just 21 career games he's only 63 yards away from setting the USF career rushing record for a QB. What makes that more impressive is he's already over 4,000 passing yards in his career as well. I expect him to be running more than normal as his WR unit has been hit hard by injuries, and are now relying on red-shirt freshman speedster Carlton Mitchell to be a go to target. It would be wise to spy Grothe as often as possible, and he's a patient runner who will wait for the defense to commit before he takes off up the middle.
USF comes in to the game averaging 181 yards a game on the ground, and they use a trio of backs along with Grothe to get the job done. True freshman Mike Ford has been coming on strong and is tied for the team lead in TD's on the ground with 6. He's a between the tackles back with decent open field speed. Ford's 5.0 average per carry leads the team, and he's going to be a force to be reckoned with in his Bulls career.
UC has to get back to the physical, ball hawking style of play we saw in the first six games of the season if they want to succeed. Andre Revels, Ryan Manalac and Haruki Nakamura have to make Grothe pay when he runs the ball and the defensive line has to produce pressure up the middle of the field. Mike Mickens and DeAngelo Smith will need to take advantage of the depleted receiving corps and produce a few turnovers to keep the Bulls out of the end zone.
Both squads are reeling after back to back loses derailed what looked to be a special season for both programs. The cold, hard facts are that the team on the wrong side of the scoreboard will be eliminated from Big East Title contention. UC is 0-2 in Tampa, but after a bye week the wagons have been circled, and the Cats are hungry to return to the form that saw them rolling before the loss to Louisville. This group knows how to go on the road and face a tough opponent, and they need to eliminate the mental and physical mistakes that landed them on the ropes. I look for UC to work the middle of the field more than in any contest this year on the way to a tight victory.
Prediction: UC 21 USF 20