South Florida’s defense is starting to make as many headlines as its experienced, productive offense and the 17th-ranked Bulls hope that trend continues when they visit East Carolina on Saturday for an American Athletic Conference battle. USF has scored at least 30 points in 21 consecutive games with senior quarterback Quinton Flowers leading the way, but its defense is leading the nation in interceptions (12) and tied for the most takeaways (14).
The Bulls forced six turnovers and gave up 85 total yards - a school record against FBS teams - in the 43-7 victory over Temple on Sept. 21 to open the AAC season and are averaging 40.8 points per contest on offense. “We go into games and want to apply pressure,” USF’s senior linebacker Auggie Sanchez (325 career tackles) told reporters. “We want to make them feel uncomfortable and get the ball out, and that’s what you saw (against Temple).” The Bulls face an East Carolina team coming off its first win of the season as AAC offensive player of the week Thomas Sirk threw for 426 yards and three scores in a 41-38 victory at Connecticut in its league opener. “After our first three games, we said we’re going to focus on conference play, and we have another one (this week),” Sirk, a Duke transfer, told reporters. “So, we look forward to that.”
TV: Noon ET, CBS Sports Network. LINE: USF -23
SOUTH FLORIDA (4-0, 1-0 AAC): Senior corner Deatrick Nichols intercepted two passes and forced a fumble to be named AAC defensive player of the week Monday while senior safety Devin Abraham has picked off a team-best three balls. Flowers has thrown for eight scores while being intercepted twice in the first four games and will need receivers to step up if junior Tyre McCants (knee) and sophomore Deangelo Antoine (leg) can’t go, but senior Marquez Valdes-Scantling leads the way with 16 catches for 228 yards. Senior running backs Darius Tice and D’Ernest Johnson each rushed for 100 yards in the last two games and have combined for almost 700 yards on the ground.
EAST CAROLINA (1-3, 1-0): Sirk, who missed the 64-17 loss to Virginia Tech on Sept. 16 while recovering from a concussion, completed 37-of-69 passes in his first two games before connecting on 30 of his 39 attempts against UConn with 31 rushing yards. Senior wide receiver Davon Grayson also had huge day last time out when he registered career highs with 11 receptions for 223 yards and three scores after hauling in 13 passes for 171 yards in the first three contests. The Pirates hope to get more from their ground attack, which is averaging 3.0 yards per attempt and is led by senior Tyshon Dye (123 yards, three games) and sophomore Hussein Howe (103).
1. Flowers needs 104 yards rushing to reach 3,000 in his career and is 111 yards shy of 9,000 in total offense.
2. East Carolina’s junior WR Trevon Brown has recorded at least 92 yards receiving in three straight games and boasts 345 for the season.
3. The Bulls have won six of the previous seven meetings, including 38-22 at home last season, and are 3-0 at East Carolina.
PREDICTION: South Florida 45, East Carolina 17