Bulls gearing up to repel aggressive East Carolina blitz

East Carolina plays a heavy blitz defense, and coach Jeff Scott said it’s one of the toughest blitzing defenses to deal with. It’ll take the full cohesiveness of the offense if USF wants to be successful. ECU ATHLETICS PHOTO

For the first time since last season, USF fans will get a chance to see their team play in person.

The Bulls (1-2, 0-1) face a significant challenge, and this time it’s not a lack of spectators like in their season opener. Now it’s surviving Eastern Carolina’s (0-2, 0-1) heavy blitz Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.

“The thing that probably stands out about East Carolina is how aggressive they are on defense,” coach Jeff Scott said. “They blitz about 80 to 85 percent of the time, and when I say blitz, they are bringing seven or eight guys.

“It’s a house blitz about every snap.”

Pirates defensive back Jireh Wilson leads the team in tackles with 16 with 2.5 for loss and a forced fumble. Wilson and linebacker Xavier Smith are tied for sixth in the conference with eight tackles per game.

Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis Jr. recognized the aggressiveness and knows how important it is to prepare for the Pirates’ defense.

It’ll take blocking support from more than the offensive line. An important piece to repelling the blitz will be to rely on pass protection from running backs and tight ends.

Running back Leo Parker led the team last week against Cincinnati in rushing yards and was also heavily used in the passing game as a blocker. 

Parker was upgraded to the first team from the practice squad last week after impressing Scott by breaking off big runs in practice.

“It’s really important that we are really good communication-wise up front with our offensive line, running backs and tight ends communicating on pressures and quarterbacks identifying their hots, and anticipating what pressures they’re bringing,” Weis Jr. said.

Even with the heavy blitz rate, the Pirates have yet to record a sack this season. East Carolina’s defense is also last in the conference for points (50.0) and yards allowed (558.5).

Its red-zone defense has also been ineffective, allowing 12 scores on all 12 trips – five passing touchdowns, four running touchdowns and two field goals.

USF’s offense has had several offensive line combinations as well as four different quarterbacks under center the past three games.

The Bulls are second-to-last in the nation, averaging 11.3 points per game, and 65th in the country, averaging 308.7 yards per game. The Bulls have allowed eight sacks in their three games.

For USF’s offense to execute well, the offensive linemen and quarterbacks will have to adapt to each other, as well as the blitz style Eastern Carolina utilizes, Weis Jr. said 

“We are looking for a bit more stability as we go into this game plan and everything we do trying to nail down who we are going to play but at the same time we are going to rotate some guys in up front to make sure we stay fresh,” he said. “The biggest thing this week in practice [is] making sure we rep those guys in the places that we are going to play them in the game and make sure we are all 100 percent on the same page with what we are doing.”

Even though the Bulls have struggled the past two weeks, Scott praised them for how hard they have worked and prepared for the Pirates.

“The guys responded and they’ve worked extremely hard and I feel confident that our guys are going to play better Saturday night than maybe we did the last two games,” he said.

The Bulls and the Pirates kick off Saturday at Raymond James Stadium at 7 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN+ and broadcast on 95.3/620 WDAE/iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.