The Bulls are relying heavily on their defense in 2017 while the offense’s production is down from a season ago.
Led by seniors Auggie Sanchez, Deatrick Nichols and Devin Abraham, USF’s defense looks to continue its success at Saturday’s conference matchup against UConn.
“Last season, they felt like the offense carried them,” coach Charlie Strong said about the defense in Tuesday’s press conference. “They wanted to carry their load and they’re playing pretty good right now.”
USF’s defense is ranked 47th in the nation after two games, an improvement from 2016 when the Bulls finished 87th out of 129 teams. In addition, the Bulls allowed 3.9 yards per play so far in comparison to last season’s 5.9.
“We’re holding ourselves to a standard,” cornerback Abraham said. “We kind of got away from that (last year), but we got back to it.”
Abraham, who missed three games last season with a broken thumb, has caught an interception in both games so far.
While the defense has proven itself under Strong and defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary, USF’s highly explosive offense from 2016 hasn’t been present yet this year.
Despite scoring 10 touchdowns in the first two games, USF’s offense is ranked 58th in the nation.
A key aspect to USF’s offense in 2016 was its run game, which has taken a minor hit under offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert.
The Bulls have also had an influx in possessions due to their defense’s improvement.
“We have to run the football, so we’re going to have to move people off the line of scrimmage,” Strong said.
The Bulls’ defense will have the task of stopping Connecticut’s fifth-year senior quarterback Bryant Shirreffs and running back Nate Hopkins.
Shirreffs, who came off the bench in the second half in the Huskies’ 27-20 win over FCS opponent Holy Cross last week and passed for 123 yards and a touchdown. Saturday’s game against USF will be his 22nd career start.
UConn running back Nate Hopkins rushed for 130 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries last week, earning himself a spot on the American Athletic Conference team of the week.
With Shirreffs and Hopkins leading the way, 12-year coach Randy Edsall is confident about the Huskies’ chances against USF.
“I want to help these young men win every game we step on the field and play,” Edsall said in a press conference earlier this week. “We have a tremendous opportunity to try and come away with a win (this weekend).”
The Bulls will open conference play Saturday in Hartford, Connecticut against the UConn Huskies (1-0).