College Football Week 4 Preview: USF at Florida State

For the first time ever, the South Florida Bulls will take on the Florida State Seminoles.  While the Bulls will be fighting for respect for themselves and their conference, the Seminoles would like nothing more than to ride the momentum from their dominant performance over the #7 ranked BYU Cougars.

College Footblog will provide a breakdown of this match up, highlighting the strengths of each team.  We will also analyze the match ups on offense, defense and special teams, and we will conclude with a score prediction.

Ponder has established himself as top tier QB so far this seaon (google images)

Ponder has established himself as top tier QB so far this season (google images)

Florida State

Strengths:  This will sound like a broken record, but the biggest strength for FSU has to be the emergence of Christian Ponder.  Ponder was known last year for his ability to run the football, but it has been a much different story this season.

While he still has the ability to run, as evidenced by his 77 yards and touchdown run against BYU last weekend, he has taken his passing game to a completely different level.  Ponder averaged just over 150 yards passing per game in 2008 and completed a little over 55% of his attempts.

In the young 2009 season, he has completed over 65% of his passes and is averaging 271 yards per game.  These solid statistics have come against a very fast and athletic defense in the Miami Hurricanes, and they have also come against the smart, disciplined BYU defense.

Another strength for the ‘Noles is offensive line.  All five starters and several key back ups have returned from 2008’s team.  They had to return because they are all underclassmen.  O-line coach Rick Trickett has once again shown why he is known throughout college football as one of the best (if not the best) offensive line coaches in the nation.  They worked much of the off-season on pass protection, and that work is paying dividends.  Last weekend’s game against BYU showed that the big uglies did not forget how to run block, either.  Not only did they protect Ponder, but for the first time this season, the ‘Noles dominated the ground game, amassing over 300 rushing yards.

USF

George Selvie leads one of most experienced defenses in the nation (google images)

George Selvie leads one of most experienced defenses in the nation (google images)

Strengths:  The experience of the entire defense for USF has been a factor so far this season, and it will continue to be a big factor for the rest of the year.  Led by dominant DE, George Selvie, the Bulls’ defense starts ten seniors and junior.  Despite taking on three less than stellar opponents this season, USF has dominated like they should, limiting their opponents to 20 points in three games, including a shut out last weekend vs. Charleston Southern.

The other major strength for the Bulls is their fiery leader at quarterback, Matt Grothe.  He is what makes the offense click by throwing and rushing.  Unfortunately, it was announced on Sunday that Grothe tore the ACL in his left knee in Saturday’s win over Charleston Southern.  That injury will require surgery and will keep Grothe out for the rest of the season.

That puts a lot on the shoulders of redshirt freshman BJ Daniels, who has only seen limited action so far this season.  Daniels has proven to be a great athlete, currently ranked as the second leading rusher for the Bulls, but USF will miss the leadership of Grothe.

USF Offense vs. FSU Defense

The Bulls will look to spread FSU out with their four-receiver sets, but if FSU continues to stop the run, as they have done in the first three weeks this season, it could be a long day for USF.  The Florida Gators have given FSU fits with their spread attack, but BJ Daniels is no Tebow and USF does not have a speed advantage with their running backs like the Gators have.  FSU will likely load up against the run and force the Bulls’ rookie quarterback to beat them with his arm.  This should give the Bulls opportunities for big plays in the passing game, but FSU has shown that while they still have significant holes in the secondary, they also have some playmakers like true freshman Greg ReidEDGE:  FSU

FSU Offense vs. USF Defense

One would think that with USF’s experience on defense and the pass rushing ability of Selvie, that the Bulls may be able to get after Ponder.  While the Bulls will provide some challenges, FSU’s O-line and Christian Ponder have proven that they can perform against speed and athleticism against Miami, but they have also proven that they can play solid, fundamental football like they did against a very mature and experienced BYU team.  Look for offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher to try to continue the ‘Noles’ success on the ground.  EDGE:  FSU

Special Teams

FSU has a few explosive returners in Greg Reid and Bert Reed, but the rest of the Seminole special teams has been far from “special” this season.  The kickoff coverage has been very poor and after starting his career with a 52-yard field goal against rival, Miami, freshman kicker Dustin Hopkins has struggled to make extra points, let alone field goals.

USF has not had to rely much on their special teams because the offense has been so efficient.  In fact, kicker Delbert Alvarado has only one field goal, but he has drilled 14 extra points so far this season.  Marcus Edwards and Jerome Murphy are both solid returns for the Bulls as well.  EDGE:  USF

Prediction

Despite USF’s dominance in the first three games, they have yet to play a quality Division I opponent until this weekend.  The Bulls’ offense has been very efficient, but probably the biggest driver of that success has been Grothe.  With his season-ending injury, the Bulls will rely on a freshman quarterback, and opening his starting career at Doak Campbell Stadium against a Seminole defense that is looking for respect will be a tall order, to say the least.

If Christian Ponder can continue to lead the FSU offense, and if Jimbo Fisher is able to balance the offensive attack with a solid running game like they did last week, FSU will probably be too much for the Bulls to handle.  I expect USF to fight admirably and keep it relatively close in the first half, but FSU should start taking control of this one midway through the second quarter.  Prediction:  FSU wins 34-21

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