TAMPA — To employ the gastronomic vernacular, Saturday's brunch with the Bulls calls for some serious carb loading. A second helping isn't promised.
For a program such as USF, opportunities such as this high-noon showdown against Georgia Tech are at a premium. It's not every Saturday that the Bulls get a chance to validate themselves against a Power Five foe. Even rarer are the chances to perform on a nationally televised stage (ABC).
"This is a big one for us. We know this," Bulls coach Charlie Strong said. "We have to play well."
To dissect it further, the opportunities will be similarly precious for Strong's frenetic-paced offense.
In a classic contrast of styles, the Yellow Jackets will try to go methodically while the Bulls try to go at Mach 5. Georgia Tech will attempt to control the ball and clock with its trademark triple option, the likes of which no Bulls player has seen in nearly two years (Navy, 2016).
If it's even moderately successful, the Bulls will be afforded fewer plays than normal.
"Tempo's great if you're making first downs and moving the ball," Tech coach Paul Johnson said. "If they're not stringing first downs together and not moving the ball, then the tempo's not gonna help them at all. It's gonna hurt them because their guys are gonna be on the field a lot defensively."
Hence the reason offensive efficiency will be paramount for USF today. Even one pick, or a pair of three-and-outs in succession, could be perilous.
"Any time you play an offense like this," Bulls offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said, "you just know and understand you average probably about six or seven possessions per game."
That's probably a conservative estimate, but not my much.
USF (1-0) averaged 83.4 plays last season, while Georgia Tech allowed only 64.2 No Jackets opponent, in fact, ran 80 plays.
The reason? Tech milked its triple option — complete with two wingbacks, a fullback, a couple of receivers and typically no tight end — for all it could.
The Jackets' average time of possession in 2017 (33:30) ranked sixth nationally, the fourth time in six years it ranked sixth or higher. In lieu of a hurry-up system, Johnson often sends in plays via a receiver.
And against particularly sleek opposition, the Jackets are known for letting the play clock nearly elapse before snapping the ball.
When it's snapped, USF's defense must be braced for a keeper by quarterback TaQuon Marshall (a 1,000-yard rusher in '17), handoff to fullback KirVonte Benson (also a 1,000-yard rusher in '17), a pitch to any number of "A-backs" (wingbacks), or the occasional Marshall pass over the top once the defense has been sucked in.
"I'm familiar with it, but I can't go out there and play for our guys," said Bulls defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary, who spent two seasons on Johnson's staff at Tech (2008-09).
"They still have to go out there and execute and make sure we're sound and we're disciplined in all three phases as far as the dive, the quarterback and the pitch."
Same goes for the offense. Today of all program-shaping days, the Bulls must be sound, disciplined and darned efficient.
"We've just got to know this: Offensively we're not going to get that many opportunities," Strong said. "So we've got to take advantage when we get it."
Contact Joey Knight at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.
A matter of time
In five of Paul Johnson's 10 seasons at Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets have ranked among the top six in Division I-A in time of possession.
2008 30:31 (48th)
2009 33:49 (3rd)
2010 31:53 (21st)
2011 31:55 (22nd)
2012 32:59 (5th)
2013 33:19 (6th)
2014 34:09 (3rd)
2015 31:08 (41st)
2016 30:17 (57th)
2017 33:30 (6th)
USF vs. Georgia Tech
When/where: Noon, Raymond James Stadium
TV/radio: ABC, 820-AM