3 Keys to Victory
RUN TO WIN
Syracuse has a formidable rushing defense (ranked 24th nationally, allowing 115.9 yards per game), but USF's running game was excellent against Louisville. The Bulls got contributions from Lindsey Lamar (110 yards), Demetris Murray (57) and Marcus Shaw (30). Establishing the run takes the pressure off do-everything QB B.J. Daniels. It controls the clock. It gives a break to the USF defense. And it looks like USF's offensive line has found its rhythm, so why not continue to build on a new-found strength?
USF hasn't scored a touchdown on any of its opening possessions. In fact, during its five-game losing streak, USF has scored just two touchdowns in the first half and 11 in the second half. That's why the pace has been frantic and urgent in nearly every game. USF is constantly playing from behind. Just imagine how things would unfold if the Bulls could get up by a score or two.
USF's front seven must find a way to apply pressure on the Syracuse passing game. The Bulls' secondary did a much better job in coverage against Louisville. But Cardinals QB Teddy Bridgewater, who took off when nothing was open, made them pay by scrambling for 74 yards. During USF's five-game losing streak, it has registered just four sacks and one quarterback hurry.
Syracuse senior QB Ryan Nassib vs. USF secondary
Nassib ranks in the top 12 nationally in passing yards (2,164, 12th); completions per game (25.1, 11th); passing yards per game (308.4, ninth), and total offense (322.1, 12th). It's more duress for USF's secondary, which still doesn't have an interception and is allowing a 69.4 completion rate to opposing quarterbacks. That's last in the 120-team Football Bowl Subdivision.
5 Questions with senior punter Justin Brockhaus-Kann
Q: Future plans?
A: I'd love to succeed at the next level (NFL). But I always thought I'd become a firefighter. My stepdad is a fire chief. It has interested me because it's a lot like football, a locker-room setting, sort of like a family, pursuing a common goal.
Q: What's something people don't know about you?
A: I like to work out. I'm in the gym a lot. I like the physical part of football. The unfortunate thing about punting is there's only so much physical play you get to do. I want people to know that I'm an athlete, not just a guy who punts.
Q: Is it hard being anonymous as a punter?
A: Well, they say it's always good not to get noticed. If they notice you, it usually means something bad happened. I like the feel of a good punt, when you hit it just right. It's satisfying. Field position is a huge part of football and I guarantee you that players and coaches know the value of a good punting game.
Q: Who's somebody in history you'd like to meet?
A: My grandpa, my mom's dad. He passed away before I was born. He was a big influence on her life. She's the biggest influence in my life. She's my rock. She's everything.
Q: Where will you be in 10 years?
A: Wow, I'll be 32. I don't want to think about it. Hopefully, God willing, I'm at the end of my NFL career. If not, hopefully I'm at a home somewhere with a bunch of property, a few dogs, a couple of sons … and no daughters.
Hear more from Justin Brockhaus-Kann during "The Skip Holtz Show,'' presented by The Tampa Tribune, Sunday morning at 11:30 on NewsChannel 8.
Barring a future non-conference series, this could be USF's final meeting with Syracuse, which is leaving the Big East for the ACC next season. USF's greatest Big East success has come against the Orange. The Bulls are 6-1 vs. Syracuse – the only loss was 13-9 in 2010 – and every victory came by at least two touchdowns. Syracuse has been a brand-name opponent, but USF emerged in the Big East during one of the Orange's worst eras and never got to experience the once-proud program's football quality.
USF's schedule has been a whirlwind since the Sept. 8 trip to Nevada was followed by a short-week Thursday night home game against Rutgers. In all, the Bulls have played four of their past six games on the road. "It's good to be home and not having to take off and travel somewhere,'' RB Lindsey Lamar said. Strangely, though, the Bulls have lost their last seven home games against Big East opponents, so it hasn't been a great comfort level.
CHANGE OF VENUE
For the second straight week, USF defensive coordinator Chris Cosh will work from the field and defensive backs coach Rick Smith heads to the press box, where he hadn't worked in eight years. USF coach Skip Holtz said he believes there were intangible benefits, especially with some personnel shifting at linebacker, Cosh's position group. "From a rallying the defense standpoint, I think it was something we needed,'' Holtz said.
The law of averages says some good things must eventually happen for the Bulls. Why not now? It's a home game against a sub-.500 opponent. And it's homecoming. Still, USF has settled into a pattern of coming close and not knowing how to win. Syracuse, far from championship caliber, is much improved after mighty struggles of its own. It should be a close game (shocking!), but there's little inclination to favor USF until it shows an ability to play winning football.