The University of South Florida Bulls, with a rebuilt defense, will host The Citadel Bulldogs’ triple-option attack on Saturday in Tampa, Fla.
It is the season opener for both schools, and The Citadel is a 21-point underdog. Even so, this should be a good test for USF and its new coach, Jeff Scott, and here’s why: During their past 25 games, the Bulls have allowed 17 running backs to gain at least 100 yards.
The Citadel is in transition without talented runner Alex Ramsey, a graduate transfer who opted out of the season. For VMI last season, Ramsey earned first-team All-Southern Conference honors, rushing for 1,326 yards and 22 touchdowns. He also caught 50 passes, had a school-record six-touchdown game and another performance in which he rushed for 207 yards.
Ramsey was expected to carry the load and be the focus of the offense for The Citadel. Instead, he could return next season and use his final year of eligibility.
Without him in 2020, The Citadel opened fall camp idling into workouts. Thirty-four players missed the first days of workouts and the team is still getting up to speed.
Saturday will mark the starting line for the season — and a big step up in the level of competition for The Citadel, which finished 6-6 last season.
USF — which went 4-8 last year and fired coach Charlie Strong at season’s end — may be vulnerable to The Citadel’s triple option. That means containing preseason All-American quarterback Brandon Rainey, who accounted for a school-record 30 touchdowns last season and rushed for 900 yards and 17 touchdowns.
New USF defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, who calls himself a pessimist, is trying to work his magic with the Bulls, but it might take some time.
“We’re extremely thin at a couple of spots,” Spencer said.
Linebacker Devin Gil, a graduate transfer who played 39 games for Michigan, opted out for this season, leaving a void for USF. The top Bulls defenders are a trio of junior linebackers: Andrew Mims, Dwayne Boyles and Antonio Grier.
Spencer’s scheme will put senior cornerbacks KJ Sails and Mike Hampton in one-on-one coverage 95 percent of the time, and it will be interesting to see if top Bulldogs wide receiver Raleigh Webb can find openings.
A lot will rest with Spencer, who impressed in one year at Florida Atlantic in 2019, devising a scheme that had the Owls ranked No. 1 in the nation in takeaways (33), interceptions (22) and turnover margin (plus-21). FAU’s run defense improved from 89th in the nation to No. 33.
Meanwhile, when USF has the ball, new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis Jr. could use multiple quarterbacks, and there are questions at running back and kicker.
The strength of the USF offense is at wide receiver with senior Eddie McDoom and junior Randall St. Felix. They combined last year for 35 catches for 435 yards and two touchdowns.
USF’s quarterback corps is led by sophomore returner Jordan McCloud, who completed 55.4 percent of his passes last year for 1,429 yards, 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The Bulls added transfers Noah Johnson (Alcorn State) and Cade Fortin (North Carolina) to the competition.
The Citadel’s top defender is senior linebacker Willie Eubanks III. He had 112 tackles last season and was defensive player of the year in the Southern Conference. The secondary is led by junior Chris Beverly.
Brent Thompson, The Citadel’s coach, said Rainey looked good in scrimmages as the Bulldogs ramp up their preparation to face USF.
“We’ve showed a lot of progress,” Thompson said. “We’re not where we need to be yet, but the offense has moved the ball, and the defense is flying around.”
–Field Level Media