The Bulls will play their first ranked opponent of the season when they face off against No. 19 Wisconsin on Saturday, and they have their fair share of challenges awaiting them in Madison.
Stopping Melvin Gordon:
Wisconsin junior running back Melvin Gordon has rushed for 431 yards this season, including 253 yards on only 13 carries last Saturday against Bowling Green.
“It gives you extra motivation, you want to go in there against the 19th ranked team with a Heisman candidate running back, and if you can shut him down you can be the team that says ‘Oh yeah we beat that guy; he’s human,’” redshirt freshman Auggie Sanchez said.
Junior safety Jamie Byrd said Gordon is such a tough runner that one defender might not be able to bring him down alone.
“We’re going to have to gang tackle him,” Byrd said. “We aren’t going to be able to tackle him one on one so we’ll have to tackle him as a team.”
Sanchez said the Bulls have to be wary of Gordon’s big play ability – he’s had rushes of 69 and 63 yards this season.
“It looks like he’s bottled up in the backfield and he ends up taking it 70 yards; the guy’s a good running back,” Sanchez said.
Coach Willie Taggart said much of Gordon’s success comes from Wisconsin’s sturdy offensive line.
“I think, up front they’re fundamentally sound and very well coached,” Taggart said. “You watch those guys; they come off the ball with low pad level. It makes it easier for a back.”
Keeping up with Wisconsin:
The Badgers are currently ranked 19th in the nation in points scored with 43 per game. In order to have a chance, the Bulls will need to play one of their best offensive games.
Offensive coordinator Paul Wulff said the key to a successful game for the offense comes down to the offensive line.
“We made some adjustments with our (offensive line) scheme having to do with our splits that helped us out,” Wulff said. “I thought our backs ran really well and took advantage of the holes that were there; and the times there wasn’t, they made some.”
Wulff said the running backs will need to have as productive a game as they did against UConn, when they rushed for a combined 172 yards.
“The better we can run the ball, the better opportunity we have,” Wulff said. “At some point we have to be able to be consistently running the football and we have to find a way to do that in this game.”
USF has struggled to find consistency in the running game this season because of poor play and instability from the offensive line, as demonstrated against Maryland and N.C. State.
Wulff said a healthy offensive line is a big step in achieving this consistency.
“Part of the problem was we were shuffling guys around, starting them in different spots,” Wulff said. “We just couldn’t settle due to injuries here and there.
Wisconsin’s offensive attack has been explosive this season and is a big reason why it is ranked, but Wulff said that the Badgers’ defense also cannot be ignored.
“They are a top-25 team for a reason and they’re not just top-25 on one side of the ball, I think they are throughout the team,” Wulff said.
Injury report: Senior wide receiver Andre Davis participated in practice for the first time since he bruised his sternum on a catch against Western Carolina in Week 1. However, he hasn’t been cleared by Taggart to play just yet.
Senior nose tackle Todd Chandler practiced with a brace on his left arm, but there was no comment on any injury.
Sophomore quarterback Mike White was still wearing his brace during practice, but is expected to start Saturday.