The South Florida defense doesn’t garner the same amount of recognition as the USF offense, but that could be a good thing for the Gamecocks offense.
The Bulls ranked 120th nationally in total defense, allowing 482.1 yard per game. FBS teams are averaging 6.04 yards per play against the Bulls. In two games against Power 5 conference schools (Syracuse, Florida State), USF is allowing 6.4 yards per play.
South Florida is 92nd in rushing defense (205.2 ypg) and 118th in passing defense (26.8). It has allowed 31 or more points in four of the last five games, including 42+ points in consecutive games against Temple, Navy and Memphis.
Here are the five key defensive players for USF:
1. Auggie Sanchez (LB): He earned second team All-AAC honors for the second straight year after leading the Bulls in tackles during the regular season with 111. He is 10 tackles shy of the USF single season record. He is third among AAC players with 9.2 tackles per game. Sanchez leads USF with six sacks and is second with 8.5 tackles for loss.
2. Deadrin Senat (DT): Honored as USF’s Defensive MVP, he is the leader among USF defensive linemen in tackles for the second straight season with a career-best equaling 46. The 6-1, 305-pounder has been a physical presence in the middle of the Bulls’ defensive line, producing 6.0 tackles for loss and 1.0 sack on the year.
3. Deatrick Nichols (CB): Earned all-conference honors for the second straight year after leading USF with four interceptions and 7.0 pass breakups, many coming in the late stages of games that preserved victories. Nichols is seventh on the team with 47 tackles and added two tackles for loss.
4. Nigel Harris (LB): The senior from Tampa has 228 career tackles, including 74 this season, three shy of his career of 77 set in 2014 when he ranked among the nation’s leaders with six forced fumbles. He leads the Bulls with 9.5 tackles for loss, adding 2 sacks and 2 interceptions to his tally.
5. Bruce Hector (DT): Hector’s 28 tackles won’t raise eyebrows, but he is second on USF with four sacks. Along with Senat, he gives the Bulls a formidable presence in the interior of the defensive front.
REAVES WILL CALL PLAYS FOR USF IN BIRMINGHAM BOWL: Former Gamecock assistant David Reaves is now in his fourth year on the South Florida staff. Following the departure of head coach Willie Taggart to Oregon, interim head coach T.J. Weist promoted Reaves to offensive coordinator and primary playcaller for the Birmingham Bowl on Dec. 29.
Reaves served under Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier on the Gamecocks staff for seven seasons, first as a graduate assistant (2002-03) and later as the quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator under Spurrier in 2007-08. He left Columbia to join his then brother-in-law Lane Kiffin at Tennessee in 2009.
When Kiffin abruptly exited Knoxville after one season to go to Southern Cal, he did not offer Reaves a job on the Trojans' staff. Reaves spent two years at New Mexico (2010—11) before taking a job at IMG Academy as an instructor in 2012. He joined nearby USF in 2013.
Reaves was co-offensive coordinator and passing game coordinator in 2015 until being promoted to Associate Head Coach and tight ends coach for 2016, helping oversee the prolific Gulf Coast offense with game planning and in-game adjustments from his seat in the coaches box.
USF’s offense ranks No. 5 in the nation in rushing (291.8 ypg), No. 7 in scoring (43.6 ppg) and No. 10 in total offense (515.1 ypg) while setting 33 team and individual records in 2016. Because the aggressive Bulls’ offense has been so successful, Weist doesn’t anticipate many schematic changes beyond a tweak here or there.
“Our guys have great confidence in each other and their playmaking ability, their ability to execute the offense, and to adjust to the defense that they give us,” Weist said earlier this week in Birmingham. “It’s going to be a big challenge. This is going to be one of the best defenses we’ve faced. Not necessarily statistically, but the mentality Coach Muschamp brings – from a toughness standpoint, from a competitive standpoint.”
-- USF has already started bowl practice. The Bulls practiced Tuesday and Wednesday in full pads.
-- New USF head coach Charlie Strong’s introductory press conference is scheduled for Thursday at 10:30 a.m.
-- The ESPN announcing crew will be Eamon McAnaney (PxP), John Congemi (color) and Kevin Weidl (sideline); ESPN Radio will also broadcast the game with Doug Bell, Chris Doering and Kris Budden describing the action.