USF-UC: Matchups to watch

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Another session of Friday Night Lights (only slightly more anticipated than the DirectTV season premiere of the final season of the real FNL) takes place tonight.

Unfortunately, I will not be there. Though, I'm not exactly sure who it's unfortunate for. I am the best man in my good friend's wedding in Key West, Fla. So, don't worry about me, I'll be all right.

Luckily, you will be all right, too, as my esteemed colleague, News-Record sports editor Sam Elliot will take care of your postgame column needs with upbeat analysis, quotes and general insight expected of a budding future scribe not yet jaded by the business like the rest of us.

Before I go, however, I do have this list of matchups you need to watch through your breath at Nippert and I need to watch through the stench of shenanigans on Duval Street.  

--- UC enjoyed its first go-round last week, thanks to a defense that showed up in the second half and the domination of Armon Binns.

The switch flips a bit this week as instead of facing a Louisville team riding a wave of momentum as they were from an surprising run in the non-conference schedule, the Bearcats face a USF team backed into a corner after two anemic weeks of offense.

These five matchups will determine how the Bearcats fare in fending off the desperate Bulls on ESPN2.

UC secondary vs. B.J. Daniels 

B.J. Daniels may be a talented runner -- every fan who watched him run around the lot last year against UC is aware -- but as his coach Skip Holtz put it earlier this week, every time they throw they "put the ball in danger."

Daniels has thrown 10 picks in six games. The USF passing offense currently ranks 107th of 120 FBS teams. The Bulls have gone through their first two Big East games without an offensive touchdown.

Playing the Bearcats and their fledgling defense starting eight sophmores could be what Daniels needs. UC only has two interceptions all season and their pass defense is ranked 103rd nationally.

If USF can find a way to move the ball through the air without turning it over, they can be very tough to beat because their defense is that good.

However, if UC can continue the trend of forcing Daniels into turnovers while Rueben Johnson and Camerron Cheatham make plays on the ball, the Bearcats could run away with this one.

RB Isaiah Pead vs. LB Sabbath Joseph

USF's defense only allows 16.7 points per game, 18th in the country. For the most part, they have enough talent on that side of the ball to stop the majority of the plays. The best way to score has been to keep grinding out positive yardage in the run game.

Of the seven drives to result in points against the Bulls in two Big East games, all but one of the drives took nine or more plays to complete. The other drive was a one-play, 7-yard drive by West Virginia following a turnover.

UC mad a habit during its reason offensive explosion of scoring fast. Only four of UC's 12 scoring drives the last two weeks have been nine plays or more. In fact, five have been completed in three plays or less.

USF does a good job protecting against the big play and forcing boring football. Insert Pead and the UC running game. He might not be able to pile on the 8.8 yards per rush (best among RBs in the country), but if he can juke past top tackler Sabbath Joseph consistently, he will be able to keep drives alive for first downs.

UC will need to see more like the 14-play, 77-yard drive that took 6:13 off the clock against Louisville to win this game. That begins and ends with establishing Pead.

UC kickoff return vs. Lindsey Lamar

I documented the numbers on this matchup earlier in the week.

Lamar has proven to be among the most dangerous returners in the Big East this season. Nothing cures an ailing offense like a long return. A key to keeping Daniels and the struggling Bulls attack caged up will be corralling Lamar. 

He took a kickoff 94 yards against Syracuse for the Bulls' only TD of Big East play.

The Bearcats haven't exactly been world beaters in this category and have a ton of youth and inexperience on teams. They need to grow up real fast for this one.

UC rush defense vs. USF

This is a matchup that heavily favors the Bearcats. UC has been among the top teams in the country against the rush. They allowed Bilal Powell to break for 215 yards last week, but more than half of it came on two long runs. Not counting those two, UC held Louisville to three yards a rush.

The Bulls aren't running this year. Not well, at least. The ran for 244 yards against Florida, but in two Big East play games haven't been able to gain any footing. They averaged 2.2 yards a rush against WVU and 2.6 a carry against Syracuse. They failed to go over 100 yards in either game.

If UC can continue its trend of shutting down the run it will force B.J. Daniels to pass and, to go back to the earlier quote from Skip Holtz, "put the ball in danger."

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