Preparing for its match against Navy on Saturday, USF will have to prove its versatility against opponents with different strengths.
Although they have been passing the ball more this season, Navy (1-2, 0-1 AAC) is notorious for running the ball frequently. The Midshipmen have averaged 222.3 rushing yards per game, which is currently the 10th most in the country.
Here’s what defensive and offensive coordinators Todd Orlando and Joel Gordon said they are doing to prepare for Saturday.
USF (2-2, 1-0 AAC) is coming off a strong offensive performance last week, recording 597 offensive yards against the Owls. Freshman quarterback Byrum Brown completed 22 of 29 passes for 435 yards, nearly matching his combined total of 450 yards from the first three games of the season.
It was the first game this season the Bulls’ offense performed at an undeniably high level. However, maintaining that offensive momentum will be crucial in securing a win against Navy.
Gordon said he’s confident Brown will be able to put up another strong showing given his continuous growth throughout the season.
One aspect of Brown’s performance last game that Gordon cited was his ability not to turn over the ball once – something he struggled with at the beginning of the season. Gordon said this growth is what will continue to build Brown’s confidence on and off the field.
Gordon’s own confidence in Brown extends beyond the playing field. He said Brown’s work ethic and personal care have helped him to steadily grow toward reaching his full potential.
“He’s just consistent…His process is all about the things that matter, he does things the right way,” Gordon said. “He’s in the training room when he needs to, he’s a really good student. He’s very consistent and balanced through everything that he does.
“And that’s not easy to do. There’s no doubt that when you stack those kinds of things on top of each other, eventually, the production on the other end and the success on the other end is going to happen.”
Beyond keeping the momentum from Brown’s sturdy performance, Gordon said the offense as a whole needs to identify the mistakes they made and grow from there.
Despite their strong offensive showing last Saturday, including junior wide receiver Naiem Simmons’ eight receptions totaling a program record of 272 receiving yards, Gordon said there’s still work to be done for the Bulls to reach their full potential.
“We’ve made a lot of mistakes in a month, so we’ve had a lot to clean up. And it’s a process of going to practice, fixing that, going to practice, fixing that. So it’s all a process, but it’s not for a lack of trying. We just have to learn faster and fix them,” he said.
The Bulls started this season with a consistently powerful defense. However, last week’s game produced middling results.
Though the Bulls only allowed Rice (1-2, 0-1 AAC) one rushing yard – the sixth lowest in program history – they allowed 491 passing yards.
Their defense is hoping to regain some of their momentum as they will be put to the test against a Navy offense that tends to run the ball.
Orlando said overcoming that obstacle is both a mental and physical game.
“I think the key to this game was just us being disciplined all the way through our plan, and us being really good with our eyes. That’s what a lot of people will say, but it’s the truth…It’s been a while since I’ve seen guys run as violently as they do, so it’s gonna be a challenge,” he said.
The unpredictability of Navy’s game performances is something Orlando said the defense is trying to prepare for. However, he said the reality of Navy having a bye week last Saturday could pose a challenge to the Bulls in their preparation plans.
“They’ll do your traditional triple and then they’ll do different formations. They’re not afraid to throw the football either. It’s very, very unique and makes it challenging, especially now that they’ve had a bye week,” he said.
“So they’ve had a week and a half to prepare for us and we get the traditional six days to get ready for them.”
Navy played its first game on Aug. 26, but it’s still only one of six teams in the FBS to have played only three games this season.
Another area Orlando said the team still needs to improve on is reducing their penalty count. The Bulls have totaled 39 penalties this season, which is the fifth-highest in the country.
“Technique can cause penalties. Losing your mind can cause penalties. But this is such a learning process for us,” he said.
“We’re getting to the point where we’re doing some foolish things because we’re revved up or juiced up. That’s great…but you gotta be under control. And I think that’s kind of the balancing act of like cut it loose, go as hard as you can, but there is a control aspect. Just don’t do things that would end up hurting us. That’s the selfishness that we gotta get rid of.”