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USF maintains focus with NCAA record in sight

USF is 11-9 in Homecoming games, winning the last two – including a 45-24 win over Syracuse in 2015 that began the Bulls’ current run of 23 wins in 27 games. THE ORACLE/CHAVELI GUZMAN

USF will have a chance to continue its undefeated season and match the NCAA record for consecutive games with 30-plus points scored in a game Saturday night when it hosts Cincinnati (2-4, 0-2) at Raymond James Stadium.

Currently holding the record is Oregon, which has scored at least 30 points in 23 consecutive games from 2011-12.

“We know they’re going to come in there with their best,” coach Charlie Strong said Tuesday. “We’re always going to get their best because of who we are.”

The Bulls’ success is a product of an elite defensive unit that pairs with the high scoring offense.

The offense is currently ranked 10th in the nation in total yards of offense per game and ranked fifth in rushing yards per game. On the defensive side of the ball, USF ranks 2nd nationally in rushing defense, allowing 74.4 yards per game and leads the nation in passes intercepted with 14.

If it hopes to break down USF’s defense Saturday, Cincinnati, which lost to UCF 23-51 Saturday, will rely heavily on quarterback Hayden Moore and running backs Gerrid Doaks and Mike Boone.

“I think the quarterback has a big arm and makes really good decisions,” defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary said Wednesday. “I think the tailback, the Boone kid is very, very talented. I know he’s been nursing an injury, but when healthy, he’s really good.”

Cincinnati’s two wins in 2017, Austin Peay (197) and Miami Ohio (117), have come against opponents who are ranked in the bottom half of the RPI rankings.

“I don’t think it’s a talent issue,” Jean-Mary said. “I think the ball probably hasn’t bounced their way a couple of times and had some bad breaks and have been in some tough situations and I think they’re a very very talented offense.”

Moore, who’s attempted more passes than any other player in the AAC with 242, has thrown ten touchdowns and five interceptions in 2017. His completion percentage of 53.3 percent is the second worst in the conference, with USF quarterback Quinton Flowers 52.9 percent completion rate being the only one worse.

Along with Moore, both Boone and Doaks have two rushing touchdowns for the Bearcats in 2017.

“They’re (Cincinnati) probably just trying to find themselves,” Jean-Mary said. “They’re kind of in the situation we were in because they have a new staff, probably a different culture and are still trying to find their way.”

With a win on Saturday night, the Bulls would improve to 6-0 to match the 2007 team for the program’s best start in history. Scoring 30 points would give USF a share of an NCAA record, tying Oregon’s 23-game streak of scoring at least 30 points.

Despite the potential accolades, however, the Bulls’ main focus is to do their individual jobs.

“I really don’t look at the score like that,” Center Cameron Ruff said. “The offensive line just wants to get in the end zone every time. I don’t really care about how many points we’ve gotta put up on the scoreboard, I just know as long as we keep scoring, we’ll keep winning.”

In lieu of Iowa State, a 30-point underdog, upsetting No. 3 Oklahoma 38-31 on the road last Saturday, USF knows that in college football, no game is a guaranteed win — even if they are 24-point favorites to beat Cincinnati Saturday.

“We can get beat on any given week,” Cornerback Kevin Bronson said. “We’ve got to come out and be prepared.”

Cincinnati has shown they are capable of scoring and playing against ranked opponents by scoring 32 points against No. 25 Navy and 23 against No. 22 UCF.

“They run hard, their defensive line is solid,” Strong said about Cincinnati’s offense. “They have some really good skill, some really good lineman, but they just haven’t been able to put it together.”

Every game this season is a trap game for USF, according to the players, and the coaching staff has made sureß the Bulls are prepared each week.

“Once you start winning, you can become complacent,” Ruff said. “You start making simple mistakes you wouldn’t before and those habits become effective on gameday.”

The Bulls trail Cincinnati in their head-to-head matchup 6-8, however, USF has beat the Bearcats in their past two games, including a 65-27 romp in the Bulls favor the last time Cincinnati came to Raymond James in 2015. The score at halftime was 51-3.

The Bulls understand their place atop the AAC and are able to maintain their focus by taking the season one game at a time.

“They’re getting to a point where a team that can’t be beat, won’t be beat,” Strong said.


Additional reporting by Josh Fiallo