One thing USF has done well this season is defense. The Bulls are currently top in the NCAA in tackles for loss with 10.3 per game and second in total sacks in the AAC.
USF (3-3, 1-1) may come to rely on its defense in order to win against Navy (4-1, 2-1) on Saturday at Navy–Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (3:30 p.m.|TV: CBS Sports Network| Radio: WDAE-AM 620).
However, the Midshipmen are the current defensive leaders in the AAC and No. 16 in the nation, which means the matchup may boil down to which team has the better defense.
“We’re [continuing] to grow and develop, but this is going to be a big test for us this week,” USF coach Charlie Strong said.
USF is coming off a key defensive performance against BYU after the Bulls stopped the Cougars on 2-of-4 red-zone attempts.
In addition to linebacker Patrick Macon, who leads the team with seven tackles per game, USF has come to rely on a pair of sophomore linebackers — Antonio Grier and Dwayne Boyles.
Grier recorded two sacks against BYU and leads the team with three this season. Boyles has recorded at least one tackle for loss the past five games and leads the team with 8.5 tackles for loss this season.
“Both of those guys are playing very well for us and they’re putting up big numbers,” Strong said. “They get an opportunity to put them up and they’re taking full advantage of it.”
Navy’s offense is known for the triple option, which makes the most of the rushing game — the Midshipmen top the AAC in rushing offense with 327.2 rushing yards per game.
Navy seldom passes, but it is effective when adapting to the passing game, according to defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary. Despite the lack of passes attempted by senior quarterback Malcom Perry (37), Navy tops the AAC in pass efficiency (62.8 percent).
“The one thing that stood out … watching them on tape, they are very comfortable with [Perry] throwing the ball,” Jean-Mary said. “I think they are very confident in his ability to read a defense and deliver the football.”
The USF defense shouldn’t fall into the trap of assuming Perry is just a runner, which is the typical view of option quarterbacks.
On the other side of the ball, offensive coordinator Kerwin Bell sees the threat of Navy’s defense being its pass defense.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Jordan McCloud hasn’t been 100 percent since initially sustained a wrist injury against SMU on Sept. 28 and could face trouble from Navy’s blitz defense.
“They give you a lot of looks, and for a young quarterback, it’ll be important that Jordan makes some checks for us and gets us in the right place,” Bell said.
The passing game could be threatened, considering McCloud has been sacked 13 times this season.
“You’ve got to make quick decisions and quick checks. We’re going to have to be on our game to be able to move the football.”
USF and Navy have both shown they have capable defenses. Saturday’s game may come down to which team is the most disciplined.
Because of Navy’s option offense, USF needs to capitalize when the Bulls have the ball.
“We need to start fast because we won’t get many possessions,” Strong said. “We’ve got to take advantage of every possession that we get.”