Red Raiders Face Charlie Strong, Again
Ah, Charlie. The man, the myth, the coach who can’t seem to get it right. The man beat himself so often at Texas it was honestly laughable. Toward the beginning of the season, it looked like the Bulls might follow in the footsteps of the ‘Horns and lay an egg every game. I envy the Red Raiders here a little bit, it’s like you get one more shot at an old foe.
The Red Raiders didn’t fare well against Strong’s Texas team, though. In 3 meetings, Kliff Kingsbury is 1-2 against Charlie. That’s a small sample size, but those were also pretty poor Longhorns teams. Regardless, Strong has reinvented himself, and runs a version of the Gulf Coast Offense that’s so popular in the AAC. Although he’s had success in his first year with the Bulls, I just can’t shake the feeling that this was a HC who just couldn’t seem to get it right.
But it looks like he might’ve gotten it right this time. Strong’s USF team is 9-2 in his first season out of Austin, which is pretty damn good compared to what he’s been doing at Texas. It’s also pretty good considering the start that many first-year coaches have. His team isn’t just 9-2, either. They’re 9-2 and really good. The Bulls have an explosive offense and an above average (but not great) defense that holds its own against AAC offenses. Taking third in the conference behind Memphis and UCF, this USF team is not a group to take lightly.
Bulls And Their Bullshit, By The Numbers
Here’s the good news: Strong’s new team is so penalty prone it’s a joke. In their 47-23 win over Illinois, the teams combined for 31 penalties, 26 of which came in the first half. In the first half alone, the Bulls had 14 penalties for 130 yards. Now for the bad news: in that same half, they rushed for 239 yards. In wins, the Bulls rushing attack is averaging 292.4 yards/game. In losses, that number drops 51%, to 143.5. More than 100 yards rushing in a game isn’t bad, but when it’s your most efficient source of offense, a 51% dropoff is a serious problem.
But there is another serious problem, too, and this one has a name. It’s Quinton Flowers, and he’s easily one of the most explosive players in College Football. The dual threat QB is a new generation of AAC field generals that will hurt teams more with his legs than anything else. He’s a more raw, run-oriented version of Lamar Jackson; Flowers has a 53.4% completion rate, whereas Jackson’s is just over 60%. Regardless, the USF Quarterback is more than capable of punishing defensive fronts for little mistakes. Not many players can really take advantage of over-pursuit by a pass rush, but Flowers is one of them.
Here’s the scary part: he can air the ball out, too. Not nearly as well as his twin up in Kentucky, but well enough to push the AAC around, and in-conference play is really what matters; they do the scouting, and those are the games that count. USF averages 244.1 yards/game passing the ball in-conference. Put that together with their rushing attack, and you’ve got an offense that embodies the idea of a balanced attack.
They’ll gash you running the ball, and when you bring the safeties into the box, Flowers can drop back and deliver a bomb. And he’s got enough scramble that you see echoes of Manziel. Flowers isn’t a highly rated draft prospect and it’s doubtful he’ll make it to the NFL, but he can move around and expand the pocket enough to create offense, and that’s a terrifying concept for any DC, let alone for David Gibbs of Tech, who’s struggled this season.
Cowboy Joe’s Keys to Victory
Just like I said to Iowa State, Texas and TCU before Tech, all I want for Christmas is an 8-0 Bowl season for the Big 12. Texas Tech is not outmatched here. The reason playing Texas Tech scares me every year is their explosiveness and ability to match pace. The Bulls have an excellent ability to control game tempo, but the Red Raiders have firepower in the same bursts as the Bulls. USF wins games like a basketball team: with a series of runs. Kingsbury’s teams may not have the same success as Leach’s, but they can still win ball games. Whether Carter or Shimonek starts, the Red Raiders need good QB play more than they need anything else.
As you saw in the bullshit section of this column, teams beat USF by limiting their rushing attack. You don’t have to control Flowers, just contain him. He’s one of the players at the College level that you can’t truly gameplan against; just have the ends contain, spy a linebacker, and drop into Cover 2. Contain Flowers, and you’re well on the way to winning this game.
If there’s one thing that Kingsbury himself needs to do, it’s let Strong bury the Bulls himself. Tech doesn’t need to do anything extra. Contain Flowers, score points, and let the Bulls penalize themselves into oblivion. I know this is a Red Raider team struggling on special teams; hell, I watched as TTU fans cheered on a 25-yard field goal because it was a positive special teams play! Just execute, don’t over-coach, and USF will eventually do something so Charlie Strong-ish they can’t recover. Some people have faith in Strong, but I’m not one of them. I’d take Kingsbury and Texas Tech +3, along with the over.