Bulls look to bounce back against No. 13 Florida

The Gators are one of two teams on USF’s 2021 schedule currently ranked in the AP Poll. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

It was a disappointing start to the season for the USF football team, losing 45-0 to NC State in the season opener, but the Bulls must quickly move on and gear up for another significant foe — No. 13 Florida on Saturday.

The Gators are loaded with talent at virtually every level of the game. From quarterbacks Anthony Richardson and Emory Jones on offense, to senior defensive lineman Zachary Carter on defense, the Bulls have their work cut out for them.

“[The game against NC State] was one of our 12 games, so we’ve got to be able to turn the page,” coach Jeff Scott said Tuesday. “We’ve got another huge challenge this week, Florida is an incredible team. Coach [Dan] Mullen and his staff have done an incredible job in his four years there. They’ve recruited very well, they’ve got the size, speed, athleticism all over the field [that] definitely presents a lot of challenges for our offense, defense and special teams.”

If USF is going to limit what UF does offensively, it’s going to start with defending the run. 

“I think for me, it starts with being able to stop their running game,” Scott said. “They had over 400 yards rushing last week, and I think that starts with their offensive line. They’re really talented up front. They’ve got four or five backs that are very, very talented [with] both size and speed. And then both of their quarterbacks are tremendous. Anytime they pull the ball they have a chance to score at any moment.”

In UF’s season opener against Florida Atlantic last week, the Gators ran rampant. Two players got over the century mark and they averaged 8.2 yards per carry as a team. Senior running back Malik Davis collected 104 yards and a touchdown, but Richardson paced the squad with 160 yards on the ground. As for Jones, he finished the night with 74 rushing yards. 

Through the air, Jones led the way as he went 17-of-27 for 113 yards and one touchdown. He also tossed two interceptions. Richardson ended 3-of-8 for 40 yards.

Preparing for two quarterbacks could be dicey if they boast different skill sets, but since Richardson and Jones are so similar, getting ready for the game could be a simpler task, according to Scott.

“Well, they’re both very similar in the fact that they’re excellent runners, and they both can throw the ball and stretch the ball down the field,” Scott said. “To me, I think it’s a bigger challenge, if you have one that’s, maybe a pro style, just a dropback passer and that’s all he does, and the other guy’s a runner, I think [with] that you have to split up your prep.

“But with both of those guys being super athletic, they love having the ball in their hands, and both of them can score anytime that they pull the ball. We’re preparing for the same quarterback, regardless of either of those guys, because you watch the film, both of them are very, very similar in a lot of things that they do.”

The Bulls also have their own quarterback duel going on, with junior Cade Fortin and freshman Timmy McClain both vying for the spot. Against NC State, Fortin played the first five drives before getting taken out in favor of McClain. Toward the end of the third quarter, Fortin was brought back onto the field.

By game’s end, Fortin was 7-of-20 for 41 yards and an interception, coupled with 5 rushes for 23 yards. McClain finished 7-of-13 for 126 yards and two touchdowns to go along with four rushes for 16 yards.

Against UF, Scott expects both players to see playing time. He also mentioned sophomore Katravis Marsh could step in.

“I do [expect to play both Fortin and McClain against UF]. We’re going to let Cade go out there first,” Scott said. “We were planning to play Timmy last week, we weren’t planning to play him as early and on a regular schedule, we had some packages and things for him, but really just after struggling getting anything going there in the first quarter, we decided to change it up … Both him and Cade, are talented players, they have a lot of pride in what they do.

“They work extremely hard preparing. And I expect both of those guys to play better this week.”

The Bulls will play their home opener in Raymond James Stadium against the Gators on Saturday at 1 p.m. The game will be televised on ABC and broadcast on 95.3/620 WDAE/iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.