USF to open conference play against powerful SMU offense

Junior quarterback Tanner Mordecai (center) has thrown for 1,270 yards and 20 touchdowns through the season’s first four games. SMU ATHLETICS PHOTO

After completing its nonconference slate last week, the USF football team is now set to open conference play Saturday against the SMU Mustangs and their prolific offensive attack.

SMU (4-0) is one of only two AAC teams that escaped out-of-conference play without a loss this season, the other being No. 7 Cincinnati.

The Mustangs have outscored their opponents 172-92 and currently average 43 points per game, tied for seventh best in the country. They also average 549.8 total offensive yards per contest.

“They’ve got the No. 5 offense in the country … their quarterback, [junior Tanner] Mordecai has 20 passing touchdowns which is No. 1 in the country,” coach Jeff Scott said in a press conference Tuesday. “I think the No. 2 quarterback in the country has 15 touchdowns, so that tells you how impressive that is.”

With SMU making a case to be one of the best teams in the conference, this will be yet another significant test for the Bulls (1-3). USF has already played three currently ranked teams in No. 10 Florida, No. 13 BYU and No. 23 NC State.

“You show me another team in the country right now that’s played the schedule that we’ve played,” senior offensive lineman Demetris Harris said Tuesday. “I mean, three top-25 teams, two on the road, nobody else has played that schedule.

“I’m so proud of the guys [with] the way that we’ve responded. We never got down, we never started pointing fingers … Each week you can see improvement.”

In order for the Bulls to continue the theme of improvement and potentially translate it into a win, they must focus on holding back SMU’s offense. 

The Mustangs are a highly talented rushing team. Through four games they have averaged 232.2 yards on the ground.

“[The Mustangs are] really balanced,” defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said in a Wednesday press conference. “[Sophomore Ulysses Bentley IV is] just a dynamic running back. [He was] the leading rusher in the conference last year [and] you see why. He makes people miss, he can make a jump cut two gaps over, and then he can get to top speed pretty fast.

“[They’ve got] a big, big fullback, huge tight ends, another OU transfer at tight end, and then explosive receivers, so just a balanced [offense.] Seniors all across the offensive line, so there’s a reason they’re fifth in the nation, there’s a reason they’re executing at a high level right now.”

Despite USF facing off against the three ranked teams earlier in the season, Scott said he believes this combination of skill players is the best that his team has seen.

“[From] what I see on film, they look like the most electric all around,” Scott said. “Wideouts, running back, quarterback, they look the most dangerous at all those positions of who we played so far.”

USF and SMU will play in Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas on Saturday at 4 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPNU and broadcast on 1250 AM WHNZ/iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.