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Florida vs. USF Football Prediction and Preview

Emory Jones, Florida Gators Football

Emory Jones and the Gators head to Tampa to take on the in-state Bulls

For the second week in a row, Florida will face an in-state non-conference opponent. This time, however, the 13th-ranked Gators will be on the road as they travel to take on the USF Bulls.

Saturday's contest in Tampa will feature two teams trending in completely different directions. Florida has played in a New Year's Six bowl in each of its first three seasons under head coach Dan Mullen. South Florida, now in its second season under Jeff Scott, is just 1-13 in its last 14 games.

The Bulls were shut out at NC State in the season opener last week, 45-0. Florida had little trouble with Florida Atlantic in Gainesville, winning 35-14. This will be just the second meeting between the schools. The Gators easily took the first meeting back in 2010 in Gainesville by a 38-14 margin.

Florida at USF

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 11 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Florida -28

When Florida Has the Ball

Many wondered how Florida would replace the likes of Kyle Trask, Kadarius Toney, and Kyle Pitts on offense. Through one game, the answer seems clear — run the football. In Week 1 against the Owls, Florida finished with 400 yards on the ground while averaging nearly nine yards per carry. Emory Jones got the start at quarterback, but the story was redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson. The signal-caller from Gainesville finished with 160 rushing yards and a touchdown on just seven carries.

Richardson however, was hardly a one-man show. Malik Davis added 104 yards and a touchdown of his own on 14 carries. Jones rushed for 74 yards on 10 carries. The passing game has a lot of kinks to work out, but wide receivers Ja'Markis Weston and Rick Wells, as well as running back Dameon Pierce, all produced.

Potent ground attack are probably three words that fans in Tampa would rather not hear. In the opener against NC State, the Bulls allowed 293 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground. The Wolfpack averaged more than seven yards per carry as Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person Jr. both went over 100 yards, combining for 271 yards and three scores on 32 total attempts. Things don't appear to be getting any easier for USF's defense this week.

Despite allowing 45 points and more than 500 yards of offense, there were a few bright spots for South Florida. Senior linebacker Andrew Mims led the team with 14 total tackles, while cornerback and Auburn transfer Matthew Hill collected his first career interception. Antonio Grier, who led USF in tackles a year ago, added eight stops and the Bulls' only sack.

When USF Has the Ball

As bad as South Florida was on defense in Raleigh, there is a strong argument to be made that it was not the worst unit on the field for the Bulls. The USF offense finished with 271 yards but averaged just 4.2 yards per play. Quarterbacks Timmy McClain and Cade Fortin combined to complete just 14 of 33 passes with three interceptions. On the ground, the Bulls averaged a 3.3 yards per carry while being shut out for the second time in six road games.

Junior Xavier Weaver was one of the few bright spots, as the Orlando native put up 73 receiving yards on just two catches. Although both were quiet in the opener, Kelley Joiner Jr. and Brian Battie are capable running backs who should get their chances against Florida.

Although the Gators surrendered 353 yards to Florida Atlantic, a big chunk of that came in garbage time. All 14 FAU points were scored in the final five minutes with a large portion of Florida's defensive starters out. As expected, veteran linebacker Ventrell Miller was the top tackler for the Gators with seven stops. Leading the front seven of the Florida defense, Miller tallied seven stops in the season opener. Defensive end Zachary Carter had an even bigger impact.

Entering with 9.5 career sacks in his first three seasons, Carter recorded three (of the team's six total) in the win over the Owls. Only Missouri's Blaze Alldredge had more in Week 1. Collectively, the Gators allowed just 2.5 yards per carry, and defensive lineman Gervon Dexter recorded a pair of fumbles. Florida's defense also features Kaiir Elam, one of the nation's top cornerbacks.

Final Analysis

Entering Saturday, it appears to be a foregone conclusion as to how this one will play out. But this presents an opportunity for Jones to find his footing as Florida's starting quarterback after throwing two interceptions last week. This is even more important considering the Gators open SEC play next week at home against defending national champion Alabama. For USF, there is virtually no area where the Bulls cannot improve, even if it doesn't result in a win. They failed to beat an FBS team last year, and this is an opportunity for Scott to learn more about which players he can rely on as the season progresses. Any positives would be a plus for USF before it plays its most winnable game of the season next week against FCS member Florida A&M. 

Prediction: Florida 52, USF 7

Podcast: Week 1 Recap

— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.