Houston star Ed Oliver questionable for USF game

Oliver is widely considered a top-five overall NFL draft pick in 2019
Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver (10), facing Houston earlier this year, currently is nursing a bruised right knee. (AP photo)
Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver (10), facing Houston earlier this year, currently is nursing a bruised right knee. (AP photo)
Published Oct. 22, 2018|Updated Oct. 22, 2018

For those who scoff at any team-of-destiny talk surrounding the No. 21 Bulls, we present this little news nugget that surfaced Monday.

USF might — might — catch Houston this weekend without its top defensive player.

Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle, who covers the Cougars, reported Monday that All-American DT Ed Oliver is questionable for Saturday's game with a right knee bruise. Oliver, who had seven tackles, a sack and pass breakup in his team's 28-24 win against USF last season, will continue to be monitored all week.

The injury occurred on a controversial chop block late in the Cougars' 49-36 win Saturday at Navy. The reigning American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Oliver sprained his left MCL against Temple last year and was limited the ensuing four games. This injury doesn't appear as serious.

Still, even an Oliver limitation would represent a huge break for USF, which is starting three freshman offensive linemen including C Brad Cecil.

"I don't know if you can neutralize (Oliver) 'cause he's such a good football player," Bulls coach Charlie Strong said Monday. "You just have to know where he's aligned at all the time."

Preaching perspective

Though he's not terribly active on social media, Strong likely has caught wind of the sky-is-falling sentiment among his fan base following consecutive one-possession victories against one-win teams.

Which is perhaps why he went heavy with a perspective theme at his weekly press conference Monday, two days after the Bulls' lackluster 38-30 win against UConn.

"It's not that we're looking for excuses because we have some good talent," said Strong, whose 21st-ranked team (7-0) managed seven first-half points against a UConn defense that came in allowing 53.7 points a game. "But it's not like we're walking out there with a seasoned team."

Without prompting, Strong essentially went through each offensive and defensive position, noting the Bulls have transfers starting at quarterback (Blake Barnett) and tailback (Jordan Cronkrite), a freshman backup tailback (Johnny Ford) and three freshmen — including two true freshmen — starting on the offensive line.

Defensively, two redshirt freshmen (Nick Roberts, Mekhi LaPointe) started Saturday, and DE Greg Reaves played out of position (at middle linebacker) due to injury. What went unmentioned is the fact USF also has a new punter, place-kicker, holder and long snapper this season.

"It's a different dynamic from the team a year ago, because the team a year ago was already built," Strong said.

"You take (MLB) Auggie (Sanchez), you take Quinton (Flowers), those guys were three- and four-year starters. So this group this season, they've just never gotten a chance to play, and they for sure didn't get a chance to talk. So now you're trying to get those guys to become your leaders when they've never said anything."

Still, Strong indicated the Bulls have more than enough weapons to perform better than it did Saturday, when three of their first five offensive possessions were thwarted by interceptions or penalties.

"You'd like to get started fast, you'd like a sense of urgency, but also…you've got to be consistent, and that's what we haven't been," Strong said. "The consistency is what we've got to get. We've got to put it all together."

Injury update

Strong said MLB Nico Sawtelle (shoulder), who missed the UConn game, is scheduled to be examined by a doctor again Tuesday. His status for this weekend's game against Houston remains unclear.

The outlook appears a bit better for WR Randall St. Felix, whose injury against UConn wasn't specified. Strong said he believes St. Felix (24 catches, 484 yards, two TDs) will be ready for Houston.

Forced to improvise in Sawtelle's absence (Reaves was shifted to linebacker), the Bulls struggled mightily to contain UConn QB David Pindell, who ran for 197 yards.

"It wasn't so much Greg…you've just got to make sure that you see your keys," Strong said. "You can't let your eyes take you away from your keys, 'cause there was so much motion. A lot of times if you follow the motion, then the ball is snapped, and now you're gonna lose your gap."

A Quinton clone?

Strong had high praise — arguably the highest praise conceivable from a USF coach — when discussing Houston QB D'Eriq King, whom the Bulls face Saturday at TDECU Stadium. King ranks second in the American Athletic Conference in total offense (323.4 ypg) behind UCF's McKenzie Milton (333.5).

"It's almost playing against Quinton (Flowers)," Strong said.

"He's good enough where he can outrun you, and he's quick enough to get out of the pocket. And then if you turn loose a receiver, he's gonna be able to find him. He's made some very impressive throws, and they've been deep balls, so it's gonna be tough. We're gonna have to contain him."

Odds and ends

USF's Nov. 3 home game against Tulane will kick off at 3:30 p.m., the AAC announced Monday. It will be broadcast live on the CBS Sports Network. … Ford (seven carries, 164 yards, three TDs vs. UConn) and Roberts (10 tackles, 61-yard INT return) made the AAC's weekly honor roll Monday. So did UConn QB David Pindell, who ran for 197 yards against the Bulls.