USF won’t underestimate Elon in season opener

Coach Charlie Strong and the Bulls are only a few days away from their season opener against Elon. ORACLE FILE PHOTO

USF is now just three days away from its home opener against Elon at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Bulls coaches said they are ready to get back to playing football at Raymond James Stadium, but nobody on staff is overlooking the Phoenix.

“They’re very efficient,” defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary said. “They have a quarterback who was freshman of the year in that conference last year who is very smart with the ball…and I’m very impressed with their running backs.”

Elon’s quarterback, Davis Cheek, was the CAA offensive rookie of the year last season. He led the team by completing 190 of 323 passes for 2431 yards. Of those passes, eight were intercepted and 15 were touchdowns.

Cheek isn’t a labeled as a mobile quarterback, though. On 67 rushing attempts, he totaled 85 yards and two touchdowns all last season.

The standout Phoenix running back, Malcolm Summers, however, ran for 755 yards last season — 294 of which were gained in just one game against Richmond.

“They have two running backs that run the ball very hard, break a lot of tackles and are very shifty,” Jean-Mary said.

The other part of the running back tandem is De’Sean McNair. On 159 carries, he rushed for 663 yards and a team-high six touchdowns.

Jean-Mary called Elon a “complete team” and seems to have done his job in analyzing Elon’s strengths going into Saturday.

For offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, one player on Elon’s defense poses a major threat to offensive production: Warren Messer.

“They’ve got an all-American linebacker that runs around the field and makes plays, creates havoc, creates turnovers,” Gilbert said.

Messer racked up 114 total tackles last season. He added 11 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, five and a half sacks and two interceptions.

“Those guys (Elon) are fiesty on defense,” Gilbert added. “Their scheme gives people issues. That’s something we’ll have to attack on Saturday.”

Both Elon and USF share something in common — both programs feature second-year head coaches.

“I know (Curt Cignetti) and he’s an outstanding coach,” coach Charlie Strong said. “His team is going to be well-prepared.”

Strong summarized what the Bulls need to do to win in their season opener, almost echoing his coordinators.

“We’re going to have to be able to tackle,” Strong said. “On defense, you’ve got to get your feet in the ground and get off blocks and get to the ball…Offensively, we’re going to have to create explosive plays and we’re going to have to be able to get the ball in our playmakers’ hands and let them run with it.”