Having benefited from a week off after playing five games in September, the University of South Florida football team returns to the field Saturday for a Big East road test against Connecticut.
A key concern for the Bulls (4-1, 0-1) as they travel to East Hartford is a UConn run defense that has only given up an average of 74 yards per game, which is sixth best in the nation. Most of USF’s offensive success is due to its strong run game, which is averaging more than 200 yards per game.
Coach Skip Holtz said redshirt senior defensive tackle Kendall Reyes is the player who stands out the most on a talented Huskies defense.
“Kendall Reyes is special – he’s a difference maker,” he said. “He’s on pretty much every watch list there is for a defensive player … he is, I think, leading the league for tackles for a loss. He’s second or third in the league with sacks. He’s a talent and difference maker.”
Reyes has 22 tackles this season and is on the watch list for the Outland Trophy (best interior lineman), the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (best defensive player) and the Rotary Lombardi Award (best offensive or defensive lineman). In addition to four sacks, he leads the Big East in tackles for loss with 10.
USF offensive coordinator Todd Fitch echoed Holtz’s concerns about UConn’s impressive defensive line.
“They have a very good front four, which takes a lot of pressure off of their linebacker level,” Fitch said. “(They’re) probably, maybe, the most complete d-line in the Big East that I have seen on tape so far. They commit a lot of people to stopping the run, which has opened up some passing lanes, obviously, and I think that they’re determined to get you behind the chains. We’re going to have to find a way to manufacture running game numbers so that we can get to those third-and-manageables that we’ve been talking about.”
The Huskies’ (2-4, 0-1) defense does have a weakness in their pass defense, which is “vulnerable,” Fitch said. The Bulls might rely a little bit more on their passing game than they have all season.
“If you could balance our run game with the passing game, I think that will give us a chance to have a very successful day,” Fitch said.
Fitch said redshirt sophomore wide receiver Sterling Griffin, who was the only USF receiver with more than 25 yards against Pittsburgh, catching five passes for 109 yards, could be relied on once more to have a big game.
Griffin missed all of last year with an ankle injury, and is having a successful season so far with 27 receptions for 357 yards.
“That long process of coming back has made him focused, and he’s worked hard to getting back, and those things generally lead to successful play on the field,” Fitch said.
USF is 1-3 record all time at Connecticut, which has beaten the Bulls with a last-minute field goal in each of the last two meetings.