Friday, September 14, 2018

Green's five things to watch for in Saturday's South Florida/Illinois game

Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann- Getty Images

By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen

The South Florida Bulls and the Illinois Fighting Illini hook up on the gridiron at Soldier Field in Chicago. Here are five things to watch for as the Bulls look to go to 2-0 all-time against IllIni on Saturday.

1) Blake Barnett’s journey:

After transferring from Alabama in the 2016 season once Jalen Hurts took the starting quarterback job, Blake Barnett opted to transfer to a junior college before jumping back to the Football Bowl Subdivision with Arizona State in 2017. The experiment failed as Barnett was beat out by Manny Wilkins Jr. for the starting spot, but graduated in the spring.

The graduation allowed him to transfer without sitting out a season and the opportunity arose with South Florida and big shoes to follow as Quinton Flowers set school records in career rushing (3,672 yards), total offense (11,802 yards) and total touchdowns (112).

Barnett has lived up to the billing and some in the first two games this season as he helped lead USF from a 10-point fourth quarter deficit to knock off Georgia Tech, 49-38 on Sept. 8.

2) The drive for five:

In their journey for respectability to be among the top tier of Group of Five teams, the Bulls look to make it five straight wins over Power Five schools.

If last season’s 47-23 win against Illinois serves as any indication, then South Florida could be well on its way to five in a row.

3) The power of the Bull on special teams:

USF’s special teams played a pivotal role in the 11-point win over Georgia Tech on Sept. 8 and looks to keep things at level as Terrence Horne looks to carve Illinois up as it tries to come close to the 680 total yards produced in last season’s meeting.

Horne will also be utilized in the wide receiver spot in mostly spot duties such as screen plays and jet sweeps, which could prove to be a threat to the Illini defense.

4) Musical chairs at the quarterback spot for the Illini:

AJ Bush suffered a hamstring injury in last Saturday’s 34-14 win over Western Illinois. While Bush best fits offensive coordinator Rod Smith’s up-tempo system, the possibility exists of him not playing and being forced to start MJ Rivers.

Rivers played in the second half of the WIU game and tends to stay in the pocket more and can deliver deep throws with accuracy as long as protection from the offensive line exist.

5) Return of the Lovie:

Don’t get things twisted with Mark Morrison’s popular 90’s hit, “Return Of The Mack”, but former Chicago Bears and current Illini coach Lovie Smith makes his Soldier Field return on Saturday.

Despite a 2-0 start, a lot of question marks remain for the third-year coach as he will face the stiffest test yet in non-conference play with South Florida.

A better start could help for Smith and Illinois as the first two games have been lackluster at best as they have trailed at halftime to Kent State (17-3) and Western Illinois (7-0). The Bulls have proven to be a team to put points up in bunches and the Illini can’t afford to fall behind early or they could be staring at a 2-1 mark even before the first 30 minutes end.