The message each week is clear for the Bulls – they need to show consistency and continue to improve. Heading into their fourth game of the season, both defensive and offensive coordinators Todd Orlando and Joel Gordon said there are no excuses for mistakes and it’s time to start seeing more wins.
All eyes will be on USF (1-2) following their tough performance against then-ranked No. 10 Alabama to see if they can keep that momentum going into Saturday’s game versus Rice.
Even though The Owls (2-1) isn’t a ranked team like the Crimson Tide (2-1), the team will still pose some challenges for the Bulls to overcome, including facing Rice’s well-seasoned senior quarterback JT Daniels.
Here’s what Gordon and Orlando said they are doing to prepare the team for Saturday’s matchup.
At a glance, USF’s performance against a powerhouse team like Alabama was impressive. However, most of the Bulls’ success can be attributed to their strong defensive performance.
While USF’s defense produced five sacks, its offense couldn’t capitalize on key plays that would have given them opportunities to even the score.
The Bulls didn’t score any touchdowns and weren’t able to get into the red zone once in the game. Freshman quarterback Byrum Brown threw for just 87 yards, turning the ball over twice.
Brown also threw a costly interception intended for senior wide receiver Michael Brown Stephens that, completed, would have given the Bulls a chance to tie the game in the fourth quarter.
If the Bulls want a chance to beat Rice, Gordon said the offense needs to be more in line with one another.
“The fact of the matter is…we need to be more in sync. And we haven’t been there when we need to be there,” Gordon said. “So, they know it, the quarterbacks know it, we as an offensive unit know it, we have to get better. So whatever it is, or isn’t, the goal is the next day, we have to get better across the board.”
Gordon emphasized that the offense needs to improve as a whole, and the only way to do that is to get every player on the same page.
“It’s across the board. There isn’t just one thing that stands out. We got to keep getting better everywhere. Eight of 11 guys are doing a really good job, [but] that doesn’t add up to execution. We need 11 guys, all the time, to do their jobs at a high level to execute,” he said.
Brown rushed for 92 yards in last Saturday’s game, which was more than he passed.
While both Gordon and head coach Alex Golesh have praised his ability to play tough and get those extra yards, Gordon said Brown needs to work on trusting his process and training in order to effectively decide whether to pass or run the ball.
“There are definitely some times in the football game that you want him to really just trust its fundamentals in the pocket and go through his progression and stay in there as long as he can until the last second,” he said. “There are times where there’s not the chance to do that, so you don’t want to tell him that he’s not allowed to use his feet.
“So I think for him, it’s just continuing to play one play at a time, and as much as anything to have really good technique and fundamentals in the pocket so he gives himself a chance to see the things that are down the field before he takes off.”
Brown’s ability to pass the ball will be crucial for USF to put enough points on the board to beat Rice.
Daniels will be a defensive challenge for the Bulls, but if they can fight as hard as they did against the Crimson Tide, they might have the edge to win.
Orlando said maintaining that strong defensive momentum will be vital not just in Saturday’s game, but for the rest of the season.
“It’s absolutely huge. To me, it’s like, ‘Okay, we did some things, now can you do it again?’ It’s absolutely critical,” he said.
“I like the way that we’ve done things in the last few days of practice. We’re working through some things in terms of what we’re doing, but it’s going to be absolutely critical that we continue to progress.”
Daniels has thrown 805 yards in three games this season. The Rice quarterback is 14th in the nation in passing touchdowns with eight.
Daniels is also a well-seasoned quarterback, as this is his sixth collegiate season and he has played across teams at USC, Georgia and West Virginia.
The Bulls proved they can put up a fight against talented offenses, as The Crimson Tide’s 17 points scored during the game is their lowest total in a win since their 14-13 victory over Arkansas in 2014.
However, Orlando said the Bulls’ defense needs to learn how to finish out a game and play well under pressure if they want to see a win on Saturday.
“We got to get better at stopping the run, I can tell you that that was disappointing to me. There were some times that I thought we’d won some one-on-ones which was good to see,” he said.
“We just have to learn how to finish in the fourth quarter. We talked to them about that on Sunday. We said, ‘This is what good defenses do, they’re able to go into a game that’s a close ball game like that and are able to finish.’ We didn’t do that. [The Crimson Tide] flipped the field on us and they scored, and we lost any chance to win the ballgame. We got to hold on, because that’s critical.”