After allowing two 100-yard rushers in consecutive games, USF’s primary focus this weekend is shoring up its run defense.
The Bulls may have a chance to do that when they face Charleston Southern, which averages 3.3 yards per carry, at Raymond James Stadium Saturday at 7 p.m.
“We have to really improve on that run defense,” said senior defensive end David Bedford. “Teams look at our film and see that we’re a little vulnerable up the middle. We don’t want that.”
Last week, the Bulls allowed Western Kentucky to rush for 200 yards and a 5.4 yards-per-carry average. The Hilltoppers broke four runs for more than 15 yards. The prior week, Wofford rushed for 171 yards.
“We haven’t been really good (with rush defense)” Leavitt said. “Wofford was a little different, but you still have to stop the inside run game. We’ll be able to shore that up. We better be able to or we won’t be successful.”
In the Buccaneers’ opening 62-3 loss against No. 1 Florida, they rushed for 95 yards and had 18 first downs.
“How many teams are going to go into the swamp and get 18 first downs,” said USF coach Jim Leavitt. “We need to play at a high level.”
However, Charleston Southern lost 42-14 last week to Wofford – a team USF defeated by 35 points. Whether that’s good news to USF players is something that isn’t on Leavitt’s mind.
“They could (think about it),” he said. “I can’t worry about that too much. All you can do is look at film and see what happened. If you go in and think those kinds of things, you have a chance not to play very good football.”
The Buccaneers return their leading rusher, Antwan Ivey, from last season. However, Ivey and the CSU rushing attack have only 242 yards rushing this season.
As USF prepares for its big showdown with Florida State on Sept. 26, rush defense remains a priority, Bedford said. He said playing physical is what the line needs to focus on.
“We’re getting out-gapped in a lot of situations where we would have the guy stopped but the play would stretch out for so long,” he said. “Eventually, he would find a seam.”
Charleston Southern’s offense is much like Wofford’s because they use many different formations and put people in motion, said defensive coordinator Joe Tresey.
“It’s not the Wofford option but it’s similar,” he said. “You have to be disciplined. They try to get the ball on the perimeter by trying to outflank you.”
On offense, junior running back Mike Ford, who was suspended for the first two games for a violation of team rules, returns to the lineup.
The Bulls could be without two starting defensive backs, however. Sophomore safety Jerrell Young is out with a broken arm, while sophomore cornerback Quenton Washington suffered an ankle injury against WKU.
“It’s good to get (Ford) back. We need him,” Leavitt said. “He gives us more depth at running back. I told Mike to work very hard to get in this lineup because there are some guys who can play.”