Analysis: USF football’s bye week to-do list

Linebacker Dwayne Boyles (right) has only played in three games after being ruled out with a back injury. Keeping him healthy could help kick-start the run defense, which is something that’s on USF’s to-do list in the bye week. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

As USF heads into a bye week, there’s no question the Bulls are looking to improve in key areas before their next game Nov. 7 against Memphis.

While the list is extensive and nothing will be a quick fix, USF needs to make do with the time it’s given.

Here are five things that should be on USF’s to-do list this week before heading to Memphis.

Finding USF’s true starting quarterback

A big step USF has taken with the purpose of stabilizing its offense was naming a starting quarterback — or that was the plan at least.

Jordan McCloud was deemed the starter after performing the best against Cincinnati on Oct. 3, despite throwing two interceptions. He threw for 137 yards, going 12-of-21. 

Once McCloud became the official starter, he threw for 480 yards and three touchdowns over the next two games against East Carolina and Temple.

But overall, the passing game has struggled this year, averaging 184.2 yards per game and is ranked 79th in the nation out of 101 teams. 

The Bulls’ quarterback group has also thrown six interceptions and only five touchdowns.

The past three games McCloud has been the official starter, and in his first as the No. 1, he threw for a career-high 298 yards against East Carolina. 

However, in Friday’s game against Tulsa, he was benched after going 2-of-7 for 8 yards. Noah Johnson finished out most of the game going 18-of-27 for 150 yards and a touchdown.

It seems USF is back to square one with its quarterback situation. Finding a quarterback to get behind is essential, whether it’s Johnson, McCloud, Katravis Marsh or Cade Fortin.

Building a healthy offensive line

A key player in the struggles of USF’s offense has been the line.

Inconsistencies that often weren’t its fault have plagued the O-line.

Constant unavailables in rotating starters have made it difficult to find stability — Brad Cecil, Demetris Harris and Donovan Jennings have each missed the first couple of games this season. 

The Bulls have allowed 18 sacks on the season, averaging three per game. This ranks USF 77th in the country for sacks allowed per game.

The offensive line has also allowed 9.5 tackles for loss per game this season, which ranks 97th in the country.

It seems USF has found its starting core, and as long as the starters don’t miss time, there is an opportunity to grow and become a cohesive unit. The offensive line unit needs to get on the same page to become effective and allow the quarterback, whoever it is, to do his job. 

Kick-starting USF’s run defense

The historic enemy of USF’s defense is a rush-heavy offense.

Despite going up against conference opponents like Navy, the Bulls have continually struggled against the run game.

USF’s run defense ranks 83rd in the country, allowing 208.8 rushing yards per game.

It doesn’t help that star linebacker Dwayne Boyles has only played in half of the games this season. Despite only playing three games, Boyles has 19 tackles with two for loss.

Effective tackling for loss has also been lacking.

USF’s defense ranks 98th in the country in averaging only 0.5 sacks per game. The Bulls also rank 90th in tackles for loss per game with only 4.5. Linebacker Antonio Grier leads the team defensively and owns all three of the team’s sacks.

The Bulls’ front seven need to start being more physical up front and put pressure on opposing offensive lines.

Keeping the secondary consistent

With the front seven struggling through the air and on the ground, the secondary has had to pick up the slack, and in some cases it has. 

The Bulls’ defense ranks 15th in the country in turnovers with 10, with seven of them being interceptions. Mekhi LaPointe and Daquan Evans lead the team with two interceptions each.

USF’s secondary has only allowed 183.8 yards through the air per game, which ranks 23rd in the country.

Consistency in pass defense, however, is key. USF has allowed as few as 84 yards against The Citadel in Week 1 and as many as 270 yards against Temple on Oct. 17.

Being able to rely on the secondary is just as important as fixing the run defense. Having the two work in tandem is critical for USF, especially as it enters the latter half of the season.

Find consistency in special teams

The Bulls started out hot on special teams this year, with Omarion Dollison returning one of the shortest punts in college football history for a touchdown against The Citadel.

Since then, USF hasn’t been able to keep up that same heat.

The Bulls’ special teams unit has struggled to give the defense decent field position. The punt unit only averages 30 net yards, which ranks 98th out of 100 teams in the nation.

USF has also struggled when it comes to kicking field goals. Two kickers — Spencer Shrader and Jared Sackett — have gone 4-of-7, with the longest make coming from 39 yards out.

Getting into good field position is essential, which is something the Bulls haven’t done well all season.

Fine-tuning kicking power and accuracy should be a significant concern as well as finding a consistent punter and kicker.