Preview: USF figures to get good look at team’s progress against Georgia Tech
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Charlie Strong is eager to get a better idea of how good South Florida can be during a rebuilding year.
Saturday’s nationally televised matchup against Georgia Tech figures to provide a better indication of where the Bulls stand with newcomer Blake Barnett at quarterback than last week’s season-opening rout of Elon.
It’s also an opportunity to expand on an impressive stretch of success against members of Power 5 conferences.
The Bulls have won five of their past six against Power 5 opponents, including bowl victories over South Carolina and Texas Tech in bowl games. The lone setback was a 55-35 home loss to Florida State in 2016.
“When you get a chance to play a Power 5 team, you have to go play well,” Strong said. “What that does is it opens up people’s eyes. Now all of a sudden they (say): ‘Look at them against Georgia Tech.’ Then you have Illinois coming up next. You need to play well against the Power 5 teams.”
Lately, USF (1-0) actually has had quite a bit of success, period. The Bulls are 22-4 since the start of 2106, including 11-2 under Strong.
“We’re going to be tested this week,” said Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, whose team opened with a 41-0 shutout of Alcorn State.
“Defensively, we weren’t tested very much (against Alcorn State),” Johnson added. “I don’t think they threw more than two balls that went 10 yards down the field, so it’ll be a different deal.”
The biggest challenge Strong faces this season is replacing Quentin Flowers, USF’s career passing leader and one of the top duel-threat quarterbacks in the nation over the past three seasons.
Former Alabama starter Blake Barnett earned the job this summer as a graduate transfer and had an impressive debut against Elon, completing 24 of 34 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns.
Some things to watch when South Florida hosts Georgia Tech:
STRONG GROUND ATTACK
Georgia Tech amassed 543 yards total offense against Alcorn State, including 439 rushing. It was the fifth time in 12 games the Yellow Jackets topped 400 on the ground. Like Strong, Johnson expects to learn a lot more about his team this week. “They’ve got some good athletes. … They’ve got a good team,” Johnson said. “They won 10 games a year ago, and I think they’re 17-3 in their last 20 games at home. It wouldn’t be my idea to go down there and play them on the road, but we are.”
STOPPING THE RUN
Strong knows his defense will be tested. The Bulls have been preparing for Georgia Tech’s triple-option attack since reporting for fall camp. “It’s going to come down to assignment football — who has the quarterback, who has the dive, who has the pitch,” the USF coach said. “If we can get all three of those things handled, then we’ve got a chance.”
PITCH AND CATCH
Barnett left Alabama less than a month into his red-shirt freshman season two years ago. He returned to his home state of California and spent time at a junior college before moving to Airzona State, where he was a backup last season. He’s not the only newcomer to USF’s potent passing attack who had an impressive debut against Elon. Redshirt freshman Randal St. Felix had seven receptions for 143 yards and one TD.
LET’S WAIT AWHILE
Georgia Tech limited Alcorn State to 146 yards total offense, notching its first shutout since October 2013 — a span of 57 games. Johnson stressed, however, it’s far too early to draw any conclusions about his team’s potential. “I’m not going to get too pepped up, or too discouraged, or too anything until you play a few games,” the coach said. “And then you’ll have a better idea of where you are.