Bulls' pass rush could be key against Rutgers
It's mitigated somewhat by the loss of senior defensive end Craig Marshall to a broken foot, but USF's pass rush should still have ample opportunity to be a factor Wednesday night against a Rutgers team that has given up 33 sacks, the most of any team in Division I-A football.
USF ranks nationally in sacks going in, with 21 in its first seven games -- to set the standard, Pittsburgh, which is tied with USF for ninth nationally in sacks, had seven against the Scarlet Knights last week. Marshall was the Bulls' sack leader, but his likely replacement, junior Patrick Hampton, wasn't far behind with two sacks among his three tackles for losses.
A few other areas that match up well statistically for the Bulls:
-- The red zone. Rutgers has the Big East's worst red-zone offense, scoring 73.9 percent of the time but also with just eight touchdowns in 23 red-zone trips, giving them the league's worst red-zone touchdown percentage as well. That unit will go up against USF's defense, which has been the Big East's toughest in the red zone, holding opponents to a 72.4 success rate and just nine touchdowns in 22 trips inside the Bulls' 20-yard line.
-- Just as USF's offense thrived against Cincinnati's pass rush, which was next-to-last in the Big East in sacks, the Bulls should benefit from facing Rutgers, which is last in the league with only six sacks this season. Only three schools in I-A football have managed fewer sacks than Rutgers -- New Mexico, Duke and Minnesota, who are a combined 2-20 this season.
-- Two areas where Rutgers is relatively strong are turnover margin -- they lead the Big East with a plus-5 mark, while USF is next-to-last at minus-3 -- and in time of possession, where the Scarlet Knights average a TOP of 32:20, best in the league, that despite having the lowest average rushing attack in the conference at 108.7 yards per game. Overall, these are the two worst offenses in the Big East in terms of yardage -- USF is averaging 323.7 yards per game and Rutgers is at 299.6. Rutgers' total offense is the second-worst out of 66 teams in BCS leagues -- only Boston College is worse.
-- One more battle to watch is on kickoff returns, where the Big East's top two will meet Wednesday night. USF's Lindsey Lamar leads the way, averaging 29.9 yards per return, and Rutgers' Joe Lefeged isn't far behind at 27.9. Rutgers has the superior "kickoff return yardage defense" (yes, the NCAA charts that), ranking 19th nationally in holding opponents to an average of 19.2 yards; USF is back in 51st, allowing 21 yards per game.
Enough stat-crunching ... more notes to come after practice this evening ...