South Florida is coming to Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday as a young team facing its first road test. The Bulls have already won as many games in September as they did all of last year. But Wisconsin is at least one full level up from a Maryland or a N.C. State. Can a young team get a foothold in Madison? Or are the Bulls going to get, shall we say, mauled?
On paper, this seems like a game where the Badgers are going to get done a lot of what they want to do. Yes, the Bulls have a veteran offensive line and the AAC's leading rusher in Marlon Mack. They're going to try and get theirs on the ground ... which actually plays right into the Badgers' hands. South Florida enters the game tied for 77th in terms of rushing yards per attempt (4.0), while Wisconsin sits 10th in rushing yards allowed per attempt (2.6). Warren Herring won't be back for a while, but South Florida's slightly below-average running unit seems like it won't be able to get close to achieving what it wants on the ground if everyone else on Wisconsin stays healthy. The Bulls have allowed almost eight tackles for loss per game against defenses best termed slightly above-average.
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South Florida's passing game also looks like it's going to spend another week without wide receiver Andre Davis, which won't help matters for a passing game that is just flat-out awful. The Bulls enter the game 119th overall in passing yards per game (141.8), tied for 115th in passing yards per attempt (5.6), next-to-last in QB rating (82.6) and dead-last with a sub-40 percent completion percentage (39.2). That's not to say they won't hit on something big against a secondary still without implicit trust -- when the Bulls do hit, they average 14.2 yards per completion. Rodney Adams has done his best to step into Davis' shoes, and Sean Price isn't some sort of a meager threat if they can get him the ball.
But again, South Florida has a 39.2 completion percentage. This is in a world where hovering around 60 percent is considered below-average. With the Badgers looking ripe to stop the run, the Bulls are going to have to complete some passes to make this a game.
And defensively? Again, there are pieces that can become something down the line. South Florida is averaging two sacks a game against FBS opponents, but this defense has feasted on some schmoes along the way. Western Carolina was a bad FCS team last year, UConn is a pejorative and Maryland is slightly below-average. But N.C. State is an offense that, at the very least, is stylistically similar. The Wolfpack runs well, and averages over 7 yards per play. N.C. State hit 49 points and averaged almost 6 yards per rush on South Florida.
No offense to N.C. State running backs Matt Dayes and Shadrach Thornton, but I would take Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement 10 times out of 10 in any backfield. The Badgers should get theirs in the running game. Does the passing game matter? Not necessarily. But against a Bulls defense that's allowing 6.8 yards per attempt and 65.2 percent completion, they'll be happy to give you the short passes. The bubble screen will be open. Alex Erickson could threaten a double-digit-catch game if they let him. Even UConn ended the game with a 60 percent completion rate. So if they sell out to stop the run? Tanner McEvoy can make them pay for it.
Long story short, South Florida has Wisconsin coming to Tampa in 2017. The Bulls could be a much different team by then. But unless this team shows something unseen, Badger fans should only have power rankings to complain about for another week.