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USF looking to avoid Bulldogs’ quick bite

The Citadel is known for an explosive option offense, which is even more lethal now that the Bulldogs have a truncated four-game schedule. The key to stopping them is to act quickly, according to defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

Having already named Jordan McCloud the starting quarterback on Thursday, USF is one step closer to taking the field. The first hurdle is against The Citadel, an FCS team that doesn’t have much to lose this season.

Typically, a season is a marathon, not a sprint. Teams take the time to carefully approach each game and plan for the long term. However, for The Citadel, that isn’t the case this year.

The Bulls are one of only four of The Citadel’s opponents this season. The Bulldogs won’t have a full schedule after the South Conference last month postponed league play.

The Citadel has a schedule chocked full of formidable opponents — Sept. 12 at USF, Sept. 19 at Clemson, Sept. 26 versus Eastern Kentucky and finally, Oct. 10 on the road against Army.

With a shortened schedule and not much at risk, coach Jeff Scott thinks The Citadel is even more of a threat than it was before and is wary of the Bulldogs’ potentially hefty bite when they take on USF on Saturday at 7 p.m. at a fanless Raymond James Stadium.

“Citadel is always a dangerous team anytime that you play them,” Scott said Tuesday. “In my opinion, probably even more dangerous now.” 

Scott anticipates the Bulldogs to put everything on the line Saturday.

“These guys got us this week and then turn around and play Clemson next week so they’re trying to wreck some dreams and have fun,” Scott said. “When you can play free and play loose, like I’m sure they will on Saturday night, [you] definitely need to be focused and be ready.”

The Citadel may be an FCS team, but it has been a formidable opponent for years, especially because of its option offense.

Last season, The Citadel rushed for a total of 3,408 yards on 738 attempts, scoring 31 touchdowns.

USF has prepared to face a rush-heavy offense, but there’s an added layer of unpredictability when assessing the Bulldogs’ offense because of their truncated schedule.

“I’ve gone back and forth, you kind of wonder what their mentality is and try not to get too caught up in that,” defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said.

“At the end of the day, you just have to stop what they do.”

The Citadel’s senior dual-threat quarterback Brandon Rainey led the Bulldogs in both rushing and passing last season. He rushed for 900 yards and carried in 17 touchdowns. By air, he went 62-for-122 for 1,114 yards and 13 touchdowns, setting a program record for most touchdowns in a season.

Spencer is aware of Rainey’s skill but is confident his defense will set the tempo.

“Obviously the experience of the quarterback, you might see the ball his hands a little bit more than in other times, but most of the time we’re gonna make that decision,” Spencer said.

Even with a full schedule, The Citadel has historically been a problem for FBS teams, especially in the opening half of games.

In 2018, The Citadel and Alabama were tied 10-10 at the half. The Crimson Tide ended up winning 50-17, but not before the Bulldogs had dealt a significant blow.

“You go back two years ago and watch their game against Alabama. I believe it was 10-10 at halftime and I was showing the guys some clips from that,” Scott said on Sept. 2. “One of the best lines was after The Citadel had scored their first touchdown, the commentator said, ‘That’s the first points that this Alabama defense has given up in 11 quarters.’ 

“That kind of gets everybody’s attention right there.”

USF’s defense in the past hasn’t fared well against option offenses. Last season against Navy, the Bulls gave up 435 rushing yards and were beaten by the Midshipmen 35-3. All but one of Navy’s touchdowns were ran in.

The Midshipmen came out of the gate strong, and by the end of the first half were up 21-3. 

Spencer expects The Citadel, with a similar offense to Navy, to come out of the gate in an explosive way.

The key to stopping the Bulldogs’ offense is to catch it before it’s too late, he said.

“This option, hopefully, you can catch it,” he said. “Gotta catch it before you can hit it, right? That’s the challenge now.”

The Bulls and Bulldogs kick off Saturday at Raymond James Stadium at 7 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPNU and broadcast on WDAE-AM 620 and iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.