USF starts off conference play against a team that’s favored to win the AAC. It’s a challenge on its own, but the Bulls have somewhat of a chip on their shoulder.
On Saturday at Nippert Stadium, USF (1-1) will have a shot to down No. 15 Cincinnati (2-0) and redeem themselves after suffering a heartbreaking loss against the Bearcats last season.
A 37-yard field goal from Bearcats kicker Sam Crosa as the clock expired lifted them to a 20-17 win over the Bulls on Nov. 16, and it crushed the Bulls’ hopes of upsetting then-No.17 Cincinnati.
Senior cornerback KJ Sails remembered how tough of a game it was to lose.
“It was a tough loss for us last year,” Sails said. “Playing down to the wire, that was extremely, extremely hard for us.”
But Sails then shifted the focus to this year’s matchup.
“But we get a chance to redeem ourselves, we’re looking forward to this game,” he said.
As Sails and company look forward to Cincinnati, they are sure to take note of junior quarterback Desmond Ridder.
Through 28 career games, Ridder has led the Bearcats to a 24-4 record, including two bowl wins. Ridder has professional ability and potential, according to coach Jeff Scott.
“I think their quarterback has a chance to be an NFL guy, looking at his arm, and accuracy and those types of things,” Scott said.
Sails spoke to Ridder’s dual-threat ability.
“He’s a good player, he can run, he can throw, we’re looking forward to the challenge,” Sails said.
In 2020 thus far, Ridder has completed 31 of 52 passes for 454 yards and one interception. On the ground, he has rushed for 43 yards on 11 attempts.
Defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer spoke highly of Ridder’s quarterback IQ.
“[He is] very smart, [he] knows where to go with the ball, knows when to pull it, when not to,” Spencer said. “[He] doesn’t get too greedy, [he has] really good straight-line speed.”
He also paid a compliment to Ridder’s mental toughness.
“Nothing is going to rattle him, he’s been to big games. He’s led them to a lot of big wins,” Spencer said. “Just got a lot of respect for him.”
In addition to Ridder, the Bearcats trot out a potent committee of running backs.
Senior Gerrid Doaks leads the team with 20 carries and 124 receiving yards. He is complemented by redshirt freshman Jerome Ford and junior Charles McClelland.
McClelland, who has received the least amount of carries of the bunch, with just 11, leads the team with 77 rushing yards.
With a good running game comes a good offensive line, according to Scott.
“Their offensive line, very strong, big guys. [They] did a really good job covering up [against Army],” he said.
For Scott, consistency and continuity come to mind when thinking about Cincinnati’s skill positions.
“They got guys that are two-, three-year starters,” Scott said. “I turned some video on, and I just keep seeing the same guys out there making plays.”
Matching up against a team of Cincinnati’s caliber will certainly be a challenge, but it will also serve as a good test for USF.
“This will be a great challenge for us in our first league game to kind of see where we are, and how we need to improve,” Scott said.
The Bulls are not only looking for a fresh start in the AAC — USF finished 2-6 in the conference last season, they are looking for a fresh start in their overall program.
Scott discussed the reality of USF’s record over the past 20 games, and how he looks to turn the page.
“We’ve won five games in our last 20 games,” Scott said. “We can’t hide from that. I told our players, ‘Hey, even though I wasn’t here for all of those, I’m wearing the logo. I accepted that.’ The only way that’s going to change is by changing how we do what we do, and a consistent effort every single day … It’s going to take time.
“It didn’t get this way overnight, and it’s not going to be fixed overnight. But that doesn’t mean we’re not working every single day to have the most success.”
The Bulls and the Bearcats kick off Saturday at Nippert Stadium at 3:30 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN+ and broadcast on 95.3/620 WDAE/iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.