USF football will play against No.10 Alabama on Saturday. However, it will not be every player’s first time facing the Crimson Tide.
The Oracle spoke to three Bulls players who have played against Alabama at their previous schools.
Junior running back Nay’Quan Wright played Alabama twice as a member of the Gators from 2019-22.
No. 11 UF lost to No. 1 Alabama 52-46 in the SEC Championship game on Dec. 19th, 2020. The second matchup was a regular-season game, in which the Gators fell short of a fourth-quarter comeback, losing 31-29 on Sept. 18, 2021.
Across both of those games, Wright totaled 69 rushing yards on 11 attempts and one rushing touchdown. He caught four passes for 45 receiving yards.
In both matchups, what stuck out to Wright was how balanced and in-sync Alabama’s defense was. To combat this, he said the Bulls have been focusing on improving “little things” on offense to prepare for the Crimson Tide.
“Where you are supposed to be, who are you supposed to block, what’s your read. Those are the key things [that explain] why we are 1-1, not 2-0,” Wright said.
“We haven’t tunneled in on the little things, and in dogfight games and [big] games, the little things matter because that’s what it boils down to. So, this week, we’ve been focusing on the little things — the right reads, right steps, right depth on routes and where are guys supposed to be in pass protection or the run game.”
Maintaining their composure is one of the other ‘little things’ that will matter for the Bulls. In their week two win over FAMU, USF had 14 penalties, with two being for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Avoidable penalties such as those could significantly stall the Bulls’ momentum on offensive drives. Wright said the team has emphasized a ‘next-play mentality’ to maintain their composure.
“Those are the ones that kill us because you can control that. We just [have to] keep our composure,” Wright said.
“We always preach the next play because the last play doesn’t matter. It’s all about the next play and the play after that.”
Junior offensive lineman RJ Perry is the most recent member of the Bulls to take on the Crimson Tide. Last season, he helped then-ranked No. 6 Tennessee beat then-ranked No. 3 Alabama for the first time in 15 years in a 52-49 thriller on Oct. 15, 2022.
One of the more significant points of emphasis in that game was the performance of UT’s offensive line. Tennessee recorded 567 yards of offense, 182 rushing yards and only allowed one sack.
In the post-game press conference, Volunteers head coach Josh Heupel said their success against Alabama started with the offensive line and their communication. When reflecting on that game, Perry shared similar sentiments.
“We all believed in each other and had each other’s backs through thick and thin. If one person did something bad, we didn’t get on his head…we lifted everybody up. As an offensive line, we made sure everybody was on their P’s and Q’s, and that’s what we got [at USF],” Perry said.
Much like Tennessee, USF has done most of its damage on the ground. From their first two games, the Bulls currently rank 11th in the country in rushing offense, totaling 241 yards per game.
However, protecting the quarterback has been an issue. The Bulls have given up 11 sacks in that same span.
Perry said he remembered two instances of being responsible for giving up a sack.
“I had to hold myself accountable for what I did and ensure the other guys did the same thing. We have to ensure the quarterback doesn’t end up on the ground, and we move fast, precise, and efficiently,” Perry said.
“We have to make sure everybody’s on their P’s & Q’s this week because it’s a big game for us and the Tampa Bay community.”
Coming into this game, Alabama’s defense has only given up one rushing touchdown.
Perry said the game will be decided by how they establish their rushing attack and protect the quarterback.
“It’s gonna be the best of the trenches this weekend. [We’ll] see who has the best offense line last and the best defensive line. And I feel like we will come out on top,” he said.
The Bulls’ offense will also need to keep an eye on junior Crimson Tide cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry. He is arguably one of the best man-to-man coverage corners in college football, finishing eighth in the country last season in pass breakups with 15.
McKinstry is projected to be a first-round draft pick in next year’s NFL Draft. But to Perry, he is simply his cousin.
Perry said he’s talked to McKinstry leading up to the game and looks forward to continuing their friendly rivalry.
“We’ve been [competing against each other] since we were little kids. Sometimes we played on different teams for football and basketball and have always been competitive,” he said.
“Nobody could break our bond even though he was on opposite teams, but we’re always gonna be competitive.”
Junior defensive end Lloyd Summerall played four seasons at Florida – facing Alabama twice – before transferring to USF. Summerall said he understands how commanding of an opponent the Crimson Tide can be.
“They play an intense game,” Summerall said. “I feel like to match that, you’ve got to have the same intensity, the same level of attention.”
Given his unique experience facing Alabama on multiple occasions, including an appearance in the 2020 SEC Championship game, Summerall is offering plenty of wisdom to his younger teammates. He stressed that the Bulls’ can’t count themselves out just based on the name of the team they are facing.
“Everybody hears Alabama and automatically thinks, ‘Well, it’s Alabama.’ If you put that same amount of work that they put in, I feel like you have a good chance of coming out on top as well,” Summerall said.
As a core component of the defense, Summerall finds himself on the frontlines defending against a decisive Crimson Tide offense. He said the defense is ready for Alabama but needs to mitigate any mistakes going up against such a disciplined and well-coached program.
“The margin of error for this game is very little. We just have to slim the chances of anything negative happening to us. We just feel like going out there and doing our job, executing every single play as best as you can, that will give us a chance off rip as a defensive line,” Summerall said.
However, Summerall said he believes his teammates have prepared themselves for such a game.
“I feel like we’re ready for moments like this. I feel like the [defense] has been ready. We have the platform, now it’s time to showcase… we just know we have to keep the same level of anger and intensity. That’s what we plan to do,” Summerall said.
USF will play No.10 Alabama on Sept. 16. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ABC and BullsUnlimited.