One year after shattering a school record for total yards with 5,741, South Florida’s high-powered offense is off to another torrid start, having rolled up 444 yards in its 56-20 season-opening win over Towson. Head coach Willie Taggart’s Gulf-coast offense was balanced, as the Bulls passed for 230 yards and rushed for another 214, and South Florida scored four touchdowns through the air to go along with four on the ground.
While South Florida cruised past Towson last week, Northern Illinois fell 40-34 in triple overtime to Wyoming on the road. Huskies’ quarterback Drew Hare, who missed a portion of the 2015 season after an Achilles injury, threw for 329 of Northern Illinois’ 462 yards of total offense. But the Huskies’ defense was spotty against the run, surrendering 243 yards rushing to the Cowboys.
On Saturday, 13 Northern Illinois players will return to their home state of Florida when the Huskies meet the Bulls for just the fourth time. In their last meeting, USF claimed a 24-3 victory in the 2010 International Bowl, which was played in Toronto, Canada.
North Illinois at South Florida
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS Sports Network
Spread: USF -14
Three Things to Watch
1. Kenny Golladay
Golladay is the type of wide receiver who makes NFL scouts salivate, while also giving opposing defensive coordinators sleepless nights when it comes to putting together a game plan. Golladay transferred to Northern Illinois from FCS member North Dakota, where he accumulated 1,313 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in his two years at the Big Sky school. After sitting out the 2014 season, the Chicago native showed that his two years in North Dakota weren’t an aberration, as he posted 1,129 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Golladay was unstoppable against Wyoming last week, finishing the game with 226 total yards and three scores. Some of his damage was done out of the backfield, as he ran the ball six times for 82 yards and a touchdown. He’ll give the South Florida secondary fits Saturday night in Tampa.
2. South Florida’s Gulf-coast offense
Seven returning starters on offense will ensure that South Florida’s vaunted Gulf-coast offense won’t suffer any setbacks in 2016, as evidenced by last week’s resounding win over Towson. The Bulls set a number of school records on offense in 2015, including a staggering 3,205 yards rushing, 991 of which came from returning starting quarterback Quinton Flowers, a junior. Running back Marlon Mack also thrived in the new system, recording nine 100-yard games on the ground. The fast-paced style of play overwhelms opponents and the Huskies’ defense will have to be a quick study in finding ways to slow the Bulls down or things could get out of hand in Raymond James Stadium.
3. Marlon Mack
Mack, a junior, only ran for 58 yards and a touchdown in last week’s win. He left due to injury and is questionable to play in this matchup. Last year, the Sarasota, Fla., native etched his name in the USF history book after rushing for 1,381 yards and he currently ranks second all-time with 2,422 career yards. Mack is an integral component of the Gulf-coast offense and he thrives in the role. He led the American Athletic Conference in rushing last season and holds a spot on the Maxwell, Doak Walker and Walter Camp Award watch lists. The Huskies' defense allowed Wyoming to run for 243 yards last week, so don’t be surprised if Mack (assuming he's able to play) gets back on track Saturday.
Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey has been phenomenal since assuming the full-time role in 2013, maintaining the sustained success the Huskies have experienced. After going 12-2 his first season, the Huskies went 11-3 in 2014 followed by 8-6 last season. Carey brings a talented team to Tampa, but South Florida, has plenty of talent and experience on its roster too. In the end, the home team will be too much for the MAC power, as the Bulls should move to 2-0 by the end of the evening.
Prediction: South Florida 35, Northern Illinois 21
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A sports reporter for The Meridian Star Newspaper, Hayes also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.