Cincinnati at South Florida

Sports Xchange

October 11, 2017 at 1:27 pm.

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
TV: ESPNU
SERIES: Cincinnati leads 8-6. The Bulls won 45-20 in 2016.
RANKINGS: South Florida No. 18

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Bearcats

–QB Hayden Moore has completed less than 55 percent of his passes for the season but had one of his better games last week against UCF. He was 23-of-40 in the rain-shortened contest for 278 yards and a touchdown.

–WR Lewis Kahlil matched his season high in receptions with seven for a season-high 89 yards last week. He also had seven catches against Michigan but for only 83 yards. He has a team-best 32 catches for 325 yards for the season.

–DT Marquise Copeland will have a big role trying to stop USF’s running game. He has 32 tackles with 4.5 for loss with a sack for the season and 81 tackles in Cincy’s last 13 games.

–LB Jaylyin Minor leads the ACC in tackles per game with his 9.8 average. His 59 takes has been in double digits in tackles in four of Cincinnati’s six games and leads the team in tackles with 59.

Bulls

–RB D’Ernest Johnson has rushed for over 100 yards in each of his last three games. A senior, he had a career high 111 yards against East Carolina his last outing.

–WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling not only leads the Bulls in receiving (22 receptions, 322 yards), he also is in a threat in the running game. He scored his first rushing touchdown on a 75-yard run against East Carolina and has rushed three times for 83 yards for the season.

–LB Auggie Sanchez had his usual big game in the win over the Pirates. He recorded 10 tackles and also returned an interception 43 yards for a touchdown.

–CB Mazzi Wilkins is making opponents pay if they pick on him to avoid his more celebrated teammate Deatrick Nichols, who is playing at a nickel spot, or Ronnie Hoggins, a returning starter from 2016 at corner. Wilkins is tied for the team lead in interceptions with S Devin Abraham with three picks to go with seven pass breakups and 15 tackles.

KEYS
TO THE GAME

No. 18 South Florida’s American Athletic Conference contest with Cincinnati pits two first-year coaches who have gotten off to opposite starts at their new programs.

Charlie Strong has the Bulls (5-0, 2-0 AAC) within one win of matching the program’s best start ever behind an offense that is averaging 44.8 points per game and outscoring opponents by an average of nearly 25 points per game.

Not that Strong makes a big deal out of it with his players.

“We don’t talk about how many games we’ve won in a row, we don’t even mention that,” Strong said. “I may not have to say anything about our record. It’s just getting ready for the next game.”

Things are just the opposite for Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell, who came over from Ohio State after 15 seasons as an assistant at his alma mater. It hasn’t been an easy transition for Fickell, who acknowledged this week that things had been tougher than expected.

The two teams clash Saturday at 7:30 ET at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium with action aired on ESPNU.

The Bearcats (2-4, 0-2 AAC) have lost three in a row and are coming off of a 51-23 drubbing by Central Florida. They allowed UCF to score on each of its possessions and surrendered more than 500 yards of offense before inclement weather moved in and forced officials to call the came after three quarters.

The Bearcats have lost six consecutive conference games dating back to last season. Their two wins this year have come against Austin Peay and neighboring Miami (Ohio).

“I haven’t been in a whole lot of these situations,” Fickell said this week. “But what is most draining is when you’re working so darn hard, you’ve committed so darn hard to doing something and then you don’t get the results you want.

“Those are the things that go through my head. Where are these guys? Because they’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do and then they don’t get the results that you want.”

But that doesn’t guarantee success, he said.

“That’s when you look them in the face and say that’s a part of life,” Fickell said. “We told you from the get-go you could rip your chest open and hand us your heart, do everything we ask you to do and guess what it guarantees you?

“Nothing, and we all live in that ADD world that we want it now. When you want it right now that makes it more difficult.”

The Bearcats have their hands full against a South Florida offense that is led by dual-threat quarterback Quinton Flowers. Flowers has thrown 10 touchdown passes and has run for five more and is the center piece of a physical, balanced attack.

Running backs Darius Tice and D’Ernest Johnson, each have rushed for more than 400 yards, and six different players have touchdown receptions.

The Bulls are one of two FBS teams that rank in the Top 10 in rushing (No. 7 at 309.2 yards per game) and rushing defense (No. 2 in allowing 74.4 yards per game). The other is top-ranked Alabama, which is No. 7 in rushing (301.7) and No. 1 in stopping the run (73.3).

“We’re a physical football team,” Strong said. “You have to be physical because if you’re physical on offense, you’re going to be physical on defense. That’s the way you practice.”

Cincinnati could not match up with Central Florida’s physicality or speed. It won’t get any easier against the Bulls.

“We’re holding up pretty good,” Cincinnati senior linebacker Jaylyin Minor said. “With the coaches and the chemistry that we have it’s something that we’ve learned to deal with. We have to be there for each other. There isn’t anybody else outside this building. It really doesn’t matter. When it comes right down to it, we have to be there for each other.

“We have to learn to grow as a team and handle adversity and look at the bigger picture. We still have a lot more to go in the season. You just can’t look at the bad things that have happened or the games that we haven’t won. We’ve just got to keep moving forward. (Fickell) keeps us up no matter what and tells us that we can’t get down about the bad things.”