GA Tech Know Your Opponent: South Florida Bulls

Know Your Opponent: South Florida Bulls
TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 01: Randall St. Felix (84) and the Bulls gather in the corral moments before the College Football game between the Elon Phoenix and the South Florida Bulls on September 01, 2018 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Georgia Tech opened the year with a shutout victory over the Alcorn State Braves, 41-0. The contest was a great opportunity for the Yellow Jackets to use the second half as a live practice. The Yellow Jackets will not be so fortunate to have a televised practice this Saturday. The South Florida Bulls will challenge the run and have an offense that can move the ball quickly when firing on all cylinders. It is time to…

Know Your Opponent: South Florida Bulls

Talented, Inexperienced QB

Blake Barnett had an impressive resume coming out of Santiago High School in California, and had all the makings of the next great Alabama quarterback:

  • #3 rated overall quarterback (#1 Pro-Style)
  • Won the Elite 11 competition in 2014
  • Enrolled early at Alabama
  • Redshirt freshman year to learn offense
  • Announced as starter against USC for Sept 3, 2016 contest

And yet, it was not meant to be for Barnett and the Crimson Tide. Consequently, Barnett was out of the program by the end of September 2016. He ended up at Arizona State where he was met with no success.

Finally, Barnett finds himself in Tampa, Florida officially labeled as a “sojourner” with little experience to show for all his travels. Before South Florida’s game against Elon this past Saturday, Barnett had only 24 career passing attempts to his name. He completed 14 of those passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns.

South Florida Bulls quarterback Blake Barnett (11) runs with the ball in the 2nd quarter against Elon Phoenix on September 01, 2018 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Barnett played well against Elon completing 70 percent of his passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns. It does not matter who you are playing, those numbers are encouraging for Barnett and the Bulls. Barnett will look to reproduce similar numbers at home this Saturday against a new, fast defense for the Yellow Jackets.

The Yellow Jackets are hoping to expose Barnett’s inexperience utilizing their new 3-4 scheme. The Jackets allowed zero points to Alcorn State this previous weekend. Shutting out the Bulls will prove a much more daunting, if not impossible, task. If they can force Barnett out of the pocket and monitor his rushing ability, they should come out of Florida with a victory this Saturday.

Dynamic Skills Players on Offense

Leading receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling is gone, but may not be missed. South Florida returns one of the best wide receiver duos in the nation in Darnell Salomon and Tyre McCants. They also have true freshman Randall St. Felix. Salomon and McCants will look to increase their impressive numbers form last year, and St. Felix will look to continue to turn heads the same way he did against Elon. If Barnett can get into a rhythm with the passing game it could prove fatal to the Yellow Jackets.

Elijah Mack, Trevon Sands and Johnny Ford make up the majority of the rushing yards for the Bulls in 2018. While the Bulls have talent at the running back position, they prefer to move the ball through air on offense. It will be interesting to see how Charlie Strong and Sterlin Gilbert utilize the running game on Saturday.

Alcorn State finished the day with 143 total yards, so Tre Swilling and Jaytlin Askew were not asked to do too much during their first starts. Swilling and Askew will get their first real test against dynamic receivers this Saturday in Florida. Kaleb Oliver and Ajani Kerr will step in for relief and will also fill in different spots in Nate Woody’s 3-4 scheme.

The matchup of aggressive receivers vs young, athletic secondary is compelling. Saturday will offer fans a chance to watch several players grow up in exciting ways.

Young, Talented Defense

Charlie Strong and the Bulls lost a lot of talent from the front seven of their defense after the 2017 season. Now, they do return Greg Reaves and Kirk Livingstone – both will play on the end this year – and that is a big deal. Greg Reaves is an absolute freak of an athlete and will cause problems for Georgia Tech up front on Saturday. Kirk Livingstone made the most of his playing time in 2017, and is being rewarded in 2018.

Contrast the certainty of solid play at the end position with the question marks surrounding the tackle position. Studs Deadrin Senat and Bruce Hector have moved on to the NFL. Kelvin Kegler and Kevin Bronson got the starting nod last Saturday against Elon and will need to rise to the occasion all season.

The linebacker and secondary positions are filled with upperclassmen; but that does not necessarily translate to experience. Auggie Sanchez, Deatrick Nichols and Devin Abraham have moved on to other ventures. What do these losses mean? In 2017, the duo of Nichols and Abraham combined for six tackles for loss, eight interceptions, and 14 pass breakups. Sanchez led the team in tackles in 2017. Essentially, they lost a lot of quality players and will need to replace that quality with men who have been in the system, but have not seen a ton of time on the field.

Mike Hampton, Ronnie Hoggins, Bentlee Sanders, and Mazzi Wilkins will assume the mantle in 2018. Georgia Tech should consider themselves lucky that they are facing this young group in September as opposed to November. The have the making of a great secondary.

Yellow Jackets Attack

Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense will provide a tremendous opportunity for the Bulls to find out where they stand as a defensive unit. Elon did not offer much of a challenge, as expected. But the Bulls did give up 192 yards on the ground. That is encouraging news for Tech players, coaches and fans alike. With one exception in 2015, the Yellow Jackets have finished in the top ten for rushing offenses in all of college football every year under Paul Johnson. Certainly, this year will be no different.

So Johnson and company will look to take advantage of the Bulls inexperienced defense on Saturday and do as this writer predicted and come out of Tampa with a victory. Look to Tech to run the ball A LOT on Saturday. TaQuon Marshall should not be asked to pass the ball often if Tech can take an early lead. Marshall can lean on KirVonte Benson, Nate Cottrell, Qua Searcy and Jordan Mason and let the rest of the game take care of itself.

Is it Saturday yet?

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