No. 16 South Florida faces toughest road test yet at Tulane
NEW ORLEANS (AP) It’s a little tricky to tell if 16th-ranked, unbeaten South Florida is getting too much credit, or not enough.
A visit Saturday to Tulane, where the Green Wave has not lost this season, should provide more clarity.
The Bulls (6-0, 3-0 American) have rolled past all six of their opponents this season by two or more touchdowns, and have won each of their past three games by 30 or more. That start has given them the nation’s longest active winning streak at 11 games.
First-year coach Charlie Strong, who is chasing a conference championship just one season after being run out of Texas, suggested this week that South Florida’s potential remains unrealized.
”We have yet to put together a complete game on offense, a complete game on defense and a complete game in the kicking game,” Strong said. ”So, how good can we be?”
Whether or not Strong is too demanding, the Bulls seem to be responding, particularly on defense, which has long been Strong’s forte.
”We’re playing so well because he’s hard on us,” USF defensive tackle Deadrin Senat said. ”Even when we’re having guys only score three points on us, just making a field goal, he still harps on us. He wants the best for us and he sees it in us.”
But then there’s the unflattering reality about South Florida’s schedule. The five teams the Bulls have beaten from the top-tier Football Bowl Subdivision – San Jose State, Illinois, Temple, East Carolina and Cincinnati – are 9-26 combined. The other victory came against Stony Brook of the second-tier Football Championship Subdivision.
If Tulane coach Willie Fritz has similar questions about USF’s strength of schedule, he wasn’t about to discuss before playing the Bulls. The Green Wave (3-3, 1-1), which was upset at Florida International last week, cannot afford to take anyone lightly.
”We’ve got really tough opponent coming up,” Fritz said. ”It’s going to be a tremendous challenge for us.”
But maybe less so at home, where Tulane upended a solid Army squad and scored 62 points against Tulsa.
Here are some other top story lines in the South Florida-Tulane matchup:
STOPPING POWER: In 2016, South Florida’s defense ranked 120th nationally. Through six games in 2017, the unit ranks 12th and is allowing only 77.8 yards rushing per game, which ranks third nationally. The Bulls have forced 18 turnovers, including a nation-leading 15 interceptions, and haven’t allowed a TD in five quarters. ”Defensively I don’t think they get enough credit,” said Fritz, whose Green Wave has turned the ball over only four times, making it one of only eight teams with four or fewer.
FAMOUS NAME: Senior Tulane running back Dontrell Hillard, a distant relative of former Saints running back Dalton Hilliard, is on pace to be the Wave’s first 1,000-yard rusher at Tulane since Andre Anderson in 2009. Eddie Price, Mewelde Moore and Matt Forte – who all played in the NFL – are the only other 1,000 rushers in Tulane history. ”He’s strong and he’s physical,” Strong said. ”He can move the chains, which is what you like, and then he’s explosive enough where he can run away from people.”
POINT MACHINE: Even though Strong has slowed the tempo of USF’s offense to help his defense with time of possession, the Bulls continue to score a lot of points. USF has scored at least 30 in 23 straight games, tied with Oregon for the all-time NCAA record. A lot of that has to do with an offense led by quarterback Quinton Flowers, but the Bulls have been scoring on defense as well. Linebacker Auggie Sanchez has returned interceptions for TDs in each of the past two games.
OUTRANKED: Tulane has not beaten a ranked opponent since 1984, when the Green Wave defeated No. 19 Vanderbilt. In three-plus decades since, Tulane has lost 41 straight to ranked teams.
KICKING IT: USF kicker Emilio Nadelman has made 13 straight field goals and was recently named to the AP mid-season All-America second team.
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