Craig has the Scout - South Florida 2018
I wrote a more in depth version of this last night. Then I forgot to save it and my computer crashed. So, here is the a redo of what I had written before, which is less elaborate compared to the previous version. My apologies. I will be more than happy to answer any questions in the comments.
Who: South Florida Bulls
When: 2:30 pm - September 15th, 2018
Where: Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
Head Coach: Charlie Strong. Strong did something kind of remarkable. He inherited a talented roster and had a complete makeover of the schemes. He was able to mesh these two things into an 11 win season a year ago. Strong has done a nice job of utilizing the talent Taggart left, and bringing in a higher level of talent below.
Offensive Style: Imagine the Kent State offense, with a fully functioning offensive line. Then imagine a slightly less talented back stable, but a bona fide FBS offensive line and a pair of solid wide receivers. Take that with a transfer SEC quarterback, but one that is a better thrower than runner. That is what is coming Saturday. Sterlin Gilbert was Dino Babers' OC prior to Sean Lewis, and Gilbert actually ran more than Lewis. USF is lacking a major runner, but with the receiving talent they have with a depleted Illini secondary might make it ugly.
Defensive Style: Strong and Brian Jean-Mary are in year 2 of the 3-3-5 defense Strong has been running. USF has a strong secondary, and will bring 4-5 every down. The defense will utilize a nose tackle who will either stunt or shoot an A gap to to consistently draw a double team. This allows a free flowing linebacking corps. The two ends are primarily working contain, and the outside backers are going to run a series of blitzes, some of which will be delayed blitzes after a stunt. This will be a strong challenge for the Illini OL.
Specialists: Terrence Horne Jr. He returned two kickoffs for a TD last week. Take a moment to appreciate Chase McLaughlin and his ability to create touchbacks. The Illini need to avoid kicking to Horne if possible all game.
Three Things to Watch
Illinois DL vs. the USF OL. Kent State was a below average MAC offensive line. Illinois really struggled to generate pressure against that unit. The USF OL has three new starters, and thus far they have allowed 4 sacks. Blake Barnett, while not a Woody Barrett style runner, is adept at moving in the pocket and is the Bulls' leading rusher. The Illini defense will need to maintain Barnett in the pocket while getting pressure. This means the DTs in particular will need to generate penetration this week.
3rd down conversions. South Florida is completed near a 60% clip so far this season on 3rd down. Illinois has held opponents to around half of that. The Illini defense will need to get itself off the field if order to win the game. Conversely, the Illini offense has converted just over 30% of its 3rd downs, while USF is giving up 28% on the season. Rod Smith and company will need to do better on Saturday.
The Illini receiving corps vs. the Bulls secondary. Mike Hampton is the best DB for the Bulls, and a great cover guy. Injuries have taken its toll on the Illini receiving corps, but the receivers on Saturday will need to be crisp on routes and generate separation for the Illini to win. If Hampton and company continue the tight coverages, Illinois will struggle to pass and the offensive line then takes on a bigger burden.
Scouting Review - Offense
Start with the Kent State offense. Mix in an offensive line that returns two starters and three solid new starters. Throw in two very good wide receivers and you have a recipe for an offense that is well rounded and able to put up a boatload of yards and points. The play caller for this offense is Sterlin Gilbert.
Sterlin Gilbert comes off the Art Briles tree. Gilbert started as the OC for Dino Babers at Eastern Illinois, then moved to Tulsa. He was then poached by Charlie Strong to Texas, then moved with Strong to South Florida. The Briles tree so far consists of Dino Babers, Phillip Montgomery, Sean Lewis, Kendall Briles and Sterlin Gilbert. So far, Babers has yet to unlock the ACC, Montgomery is slowly decaying at Tulsa, Lewis just started at Kent State, and Kendall Briles saw Lane Kiffin abandon his tenets last year at Florida Atlantic. Gilbert on the other hand led an explosive offense at USF last year, and has another talented offensive unit this year. So Gilbert might be the most successful branch on the tree so far, although an argument could be made for Babers.
Unlike Babers, Gilbert has a tendency to run the ball more often (in line with Briles). His year at Tulsa and since have shown a desire to mix the run and pass about evenly. So far this season, Gilbert has not identified a workhorse running back, so Arizona St. transfer (by way of Alabama) grad transfer Blake Barnett is the leading rusher for the Bulls. The running backs are by committee, and all of them are adequate. Barnett is not the runner Woody Barrett is, but any SEC transfer quarterback is going to be a challenge for the Illini defense.
South Florida is going to take the Kent State tape and pull the play calling to exploit some weaknesses in the Illini defense. The play that Illinois will see first and foremost is the counter read option. Here is the version against Georgia Tech.
The Tech defense was owned at the point of attack, and the back rolled into the second level of the defense unscathed.
Here is that same play USF ran against Illinois last year.
Carney did a nice job of closing this down last year, and Phillips held the line. Still, the Bulls had a nice gain on the play, and stringing that together would mean points for the Bulls. Unfortunately, Illinois didn't exactly slow this down against Kent State.
I'm not sure if the LB played this correctly or not. It would appear he has outside contain and let the RB bounce outside his contain. If he had the end of line, a safety was woefully out of position on the play to force it back inside to the linebacker. Additionally, the Golden Flashes added a wrinkle the against the Illini.
The quarterback keep on this play was not the design. The QB is reading the Illini LBs, and option #2 is the TE on a wheel route. The LB bottled this up. Option #3 is the QB keep. USF will the QB keep utilize to slow the Illini LBs scraping across. This is an effective way to prevent Jake Hansen and his 6 TFLs.
The next play Illinois will get a solid diet of is the WR screen on the sideline. This play is a staple of the Briles offense, and it is essentially a long hand off. The Illini corners (and by that I mean Cam Watkins) defended this well against Kent State. In case you didn't know, Cam Watkins is out the first half. Here is the Bulls version against Georgia Tech.
The Tech defense did a nice job of defensive positioning. Tackling, not so much. This play is a staple of the Briles offense, and here is Kent State running it against Illinois.
The Illini had nice defensive positioning to start, and the tackling was not so much. Against the better athletes of South Florida, this might be a huge gain for the Bulls.
If the Illini are overly aggressive against this, the counter is to have the blockers leak out up the sidelines.
If the Illini defenders overplay this the blocker has an open field in front. The inexperienced Illini secondary will be burned by this during the game.
One staple of the Briles offense is the Play Action pass. Some of these are RPOs, but most are pure play action reads. The Illini nickels are where I suspect the Bulls will challenge. Barnett and the slot will therefore be reading the Nickel leverage, and the receiver will adjust the route either in or out based on alignment. The first version of this is the out route.
The LB fills an inside zone, and the slot here runs to the depth and hits a quick out. Barnett throws a nice ball here for a nice gain.
Conversely, if the defender has outside leverage, or leaves a hole in the zone, the slot will run an in or a stop. Here is the stop route.
The Illini will need to run man defense to slow this down, but with the inexperienced secondary I don't see that happening without disastrous results. The only way to slow it down is to have a safety as a robber in this zone, but that opens up the intermediate routes on the sidelines.
Should the Illini front 6 start getting pressure on Barnett, the Briles tree like to run a tunnel screen. This slows up the pass rush if nothing else, and has the chance to break big if done correct.
The other thing on the Illini pass rush, they will need to make sure they maintain the rush lanes. With the passing attack from South Florida in full effect, the Illini will not be spying Barnett. As a result, any breakdowns in rush lanes will leave wide open spaces.
In this instance, the DE makes an inside move and allows Barnett to slide to the bottom of the screen. The LB is occupied by the releasing back and this allows Barnett to scamper free.
The counter game of South Florida worries me the most in this game. They have the base run, a few play action reads off of it, and the ability to run the quarterback. Illinois struggled to defend this against Kent State. Here is an example of a play action pass that took advantage of the Illini on this RPO set up.
With the depth and inexperience Illinois has for this game, I don't feel good about them being able to stop the Bulls. The Illini need a great deal of pressure and penetration from the defensive tackles to disrupt the counter action to slow the defense down. This will be a tall task with a full lineup, Illinois will not be trotting that out on Saturday though.
Scouting Review - Defense
If you look at the Bulls' program, you will notice they list the defense as a 4-2-5. It is a 4-2-5 in a sense that is utilizes an outside linebacker on the edge, and that player may line up with a hand in the dirt, as a stand up rusher, or at linebacker depth. Illinois will see the OLB with his hand in the dirt on standard downs, and a mix of stand up rusher and pure LB on passing downs.
The key to the defense is the nose tackle. While he may not bring big numbers to the table, he is responsible for drawing a double team every down. The methods of doing this are either through using his speed to shoot an A gap, or stunting across the face of linemen. Since Illinois has struggled mightily with stunts, I would expect more of that this weekend.
The Bulls will use the DEs to contain on most plays, but will bring them as speedy edge rushers when appropriate. The biggest concern for the Illini is getting the tackles "leaning" to the outside to slow the speed rush, setting this up for a Tackle - End stunt.
In this version both sets of DL are stunting and they blew up the interior of the Illinois offensive line.
Illinois has struggled mightily passing off stunts so far this year, so expect a steady diet of this from USF.
With a strong secondary, the Bulls will be aggressive and bring lots of pressure against a green Illini line. South Florida uses two different styles of blitzes, the first is a dual LB blitz up the middle.
In this rush, every player has a gap to rush and they try to overload the Illini slide protection. If AJ Bush is playing, this play will give him happy feet and may lead to another set of jump passes. The key to beating this is crossing routes, but that requires the Illini receivers to generate separation quickly.
The other blitz, and one I would expect to see more against an MJ Rivers led offense, is the isde overload blitz.
With a solid secondary, the Bulls will press the Illini close to the line. If the Illini can exploit the overpenetration of Bulls defenders, they can break some big runs in the read option game. Illinois needs to avoid passing downs, the Bulls secondary is solid on coverage, and the defenders will be able to generate pressure all day against the Illini front.
What does it mean?
South Florida is going to utilize the Kent State tape to build a game plan. Illinois struggled to stop the counter read option. Cam Watkins blew up the sideline WR screen, and he will be out for the first half. With the Illini DL struggling to generate pressure against the Kent State OL, the play action will be even more pronounced exposing the young secondary. Unless Illinois unveils a dramatically new way of stopping the Art Briles offense, the Bulls are going to move the ball. Illinois will be facing tempo as well which will expose the lack of depth on defense for the Illini.
The Illini offense has to run the ball effectively to avoid passing situations. The Illini offensive line must contain the Bulls interior to avoid blowing up the read option and allow the backs room to operate.
For Illinois to Win:
Illinois needs a big play in special teams, and they need to force turnovers. Illinois and South Florida are both +4 on turnovers for the year, and both are ball hawking. Illinois will need to establish the run game, create a series of short fields, and avoid hurting themselves.
For South Florida to Win:
South Florida is the deeper team, and rolls into Chicago with an offense that is a bad schematic match for Illinois. The Bulls need to play within themselves, and avoid getting down to Illinois early. If the Illini open up a lead, the play action will lose some efficacy and allow the Illini defense to play softer against the Bulls offense. South Florida needs to keep the Illini guessing, and play within themselves.
South Florida is going to put up some points in this game. Conversely, Illinois will score 20. Unfortunately, I think South Florida will run up 40+ in the game. I'll take the Bulls to cover going away.
YTD Against the Spread: