No. 21 USF preparing for Houston grudge match

Redshirt freshman Randall St. Felix celebrates after a long touchdown reception. He said the Bulls have brought a lot of energy to practice this week in preparation for AAC foe Houston. ORACLE PHOTO/BAILY EASTERMAN

No. 21 USF (7-0, 3-0) will travel to Houston to play the Cougars (6-1, 3-0) on Saturday afternoon at John O’Quinn Field at TDECU Stadium looking to avenge the loss that gave the Bulls its first defeat of last season’s campaign.

Houston spoiled the Bulls’ undefeated record last year when quarterback D’Eriq King ran a 20-yard touchdown with 11 seconds left in the game. Houston won 28-24.

After letting UConn quarterback David Pindell run for 197 yards last weekend, coach Charlie Strong jokingly said King would “run for 500 yards” if USF played defense at the same level.

“This year [King] is so comfortable in the pocket now and can make all the throws and then he is good enough to beat you with his feet,” Strong said in a press conference Monday. “He has made some very impressive throws.”

Strong also compared King to former USF star Quinton Flowers in Monday’s press conference.

Defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary had nothing but respect for King and the rest of the Houston offense.

“[King] has been dynamic. They are one of the top offenses in the country,” Jean-Mary said. “They have been putting up videogame numbers, so it’s going to be a challenge.”

Another notable Houston player is defensive tackle Ed Oliver, who could be the first overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft. According to the Houston Chronicle, Oliver has missed two practices this week after a knee injury forced him to leave Houston’s game against Navy early.

Oliver has been listed as day-to-day by Houston coaches, but he has attended all team meetings this week and has “intended to stay locked in as always,” Houston coach Major Applewhite told the Houston Chronicle.

Oliver’s potential absence could be a blessing for USF’s young offensive line, which was composed of three freshmen against UConn. Offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, however, thinks Oliver will likely be suited up for Saturday’s matchup and will plan accordingly.

This weekend seems like the same story from last season, but this time with different cast members for the Bulls. It will be Blake Barnett instead of Quinton Flowers and Jordan Cronkrite and Johnny Ford in place of last season’s running backs Darius Tice and D’Ernest Johnson.

Gilbert is pleased with the way this year’s running backs have played so far.

“Anytime you can have two talented players at any position, especially that position where you can roll out those guys, kinda, one-two punches, it’s very beneficial,” Gilbert said. “I am excited about those two guys, what they’ve done and what they are going to continue to do.”

After a performance against UConn that left players and coaches dissatisfied, wide receiver Randall St. Felix said the team has brought a more upbeat energy to practice this week. While it may be tough to get motivated to play a competitive game against an opponent like UConn, where the Bulls were favored by almost 30 points, Houston is favored by more than a touchdown in this matchup — the Bulls are underdogs again.

“This is a big opponent. We are a little hyped but we are going to stay focused,” St. Felix said. “We don’t want to get too big-headed. Today in practice everybody came out with a lot of juice, everybody was focused, a lot of energy out there. So, we are going to handle that.”

The Bulls still have yet to put together a complete game this season. Perhaps Saturday’s game against Houston at 3:30 could give the Bulls a chance to showcase their potential for a full 60 minutes.

“We haven’t had a game this big since Central Florida a year ago,” Strong said. “It’s going to be a big-time test for us.”