It took two months, but South Florida (7-1,4-1 AAC) suffered its first loss under head coach Charlie Strong last week as Houston defeated the Bulls on a touchdown with 11 seconds left. USF dropped to No. 23 in the AP poll, and now faces Connecticut in a game that was rescheduled from Sept. 9 due to Hurricane Irma.
The Huskies (3-5, 2-3) limp into Saturday’s contest fresh off a 52-12 loss against Missouri in which the Tigers accumulated 583 yards of offense. That snapped a two-game winning streak for UConn and puts the Huskies in a position where they must win three of their final four games to become bowl eligible.
USF owns a 9-5 series advantage over UConn including five in a row. The Bulls drubbed the Huskies 42-27 in Tampa last season.
South Florida at Connecticut
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 4 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: South Florida -23.5
Three Things to Watch
1. South Florida quarterback Quinton Flowers
Flowers, a senior, played a large role in getting USF off to its 7-0 start, but his success shouldn't come as a surprise. The reigning American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year set a state of Florida record last season by becoming the only player to pass for 2,000 yards and run for 1,000, and he’s doing his best to turn in a repeat performance this year.
Flowers has thrown for 1,570 yards and 12 touchdowns against three picks so far, and he’s tallied 620 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on the ground (third most in the conference). He’s a dynamic threat any time he touches the football.
In the Houston loss, Flowers threw for 325 yards. And although he didn’t have a touchdown pass, he ran for two scores. He should be able to add to his seasonal numbers again a Connecticut defense that ranks 127th in the FBS in total defense at nearly 550 yards per game allowed. Only two other teams are giving up more.
2. Connecticut linebacker Junior Joseph
If anyone is to blame for the Huskies’ struggles on defense this year, it most definitely isn’t Joseph. After redshirting in 2013, Joseph has played an integral role on UConn’s defense. He received All-AAC honorable mention recognition two years ago and last season was among the conference’s top tacklers with 81 stops.
Through eight games this year, Joseph has collected 68 total tackles and recorded three sacks. He posted a season-high 10 tackles against SMU on Sept. 30, and he’s deflected three passes. Joseph will have his hands full against South Florida’s Gulf Coast offense, but he’s well-suited to handle the task.
3. South Florida linebacker Auggie Sanchez
Sanchez is to the USF defense what Quinton Flowers is to the offense. Last year, Sanchez recorded a gaudy 120 tackles, and he’s just seven tackles away from becoming the Bulls’ career leader in that category. He enters this game with 361 total stops, including 58 total tackles this season. Not only is he a good tackler, he also has a nose for the football, as evidenced by his two interceptions this season, both of which he returned for touchdowns.
Sanchez has posted three double-digit tackle efforts thus far. He had 12 against FCS opponent Stony Brook, and 10 tackles against both East Carolina and Houston. Sanchez is the heartbeat of the USF defense, and a good showing against Connecticut will etch his name into the program’s record books.
There’s nothing more frightening than a motivated team, and Connecticut will get just that from a South Florida squad that is coming off a loss. Charlie Strong has the Bulls in second place in the AAC East, likely setting up for a highly anticipated showdown in two weeks against undefeated in-state rival UCF. But first, USF must handle business against an overmatched Huskies team.
With last week’s loss to Missouri, UConn’s hopes of playing in the postseason were likely dashed. Not much has gone right for the Huskies in 2017, but an upset win against USF would go a long way in raising morale in the waning parts of the season.
Unfortunately, that’s highly unlikely to happen. The Gulf Coast offense should find its groove and give Strong his eighth win with the Bulls.
Prediction: South Florida 40, Connecticut 17
— 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.
(Charlie Strong photo courtesy of @USFFootball)