Like most football games, tonight's contest between the South Florida Bulls and the Kansas Jayhawks figures to come down to one thing: matchups. It is a simple little deduction; nearly all of football is made of individual, one-on-one battles and so, naturally, whichever team wins more of these matchups tends to win the game. Not always, of course. But most of the time.
And so, most of the things to keep an eye on will tend to be one-on-one battles, which are often the difference between winning and losing. However, it will also be worth noting to keep your eye on a couple of other happenings, which I will also point out here. I'm on quite a time-crunch, as gametime is a mere 45 minutes away, so some of this analysis will be awfully shoddy.
Thing to Watch For #5 - The Kicking Games :: Last season, Kansas' starting kicker was Scott Webb. South Florida's was Delbert Alvarado. Tonight, neither of those kickers will be the one lining up for the field goals extra points, or even the kickoffs. Webb graduated following last season, and the debacle that has since ensued has been well-documented here at RCT. However, it now appears that Jacob Branstetter has clearly entrenched himself as the starter, and that he will be our option throughout the year, barring an injury or complete collapse. Last week, he was perfect from the longer distances often required for FGs, making all 3. However, he missed one of his extra points, which is no fun. However, there were certainly problems with the old, and he certainly can't be held fully accountable. Still, a miss like that tonight could be the difference in winning and losing.
For that reason, it would seem, South Florida has replaced their kicker. Alvarado did not graduate last season and is still a Bull, but he has been flat-out awful thus far this season, only making 1-4, including missing a potential game-winning 42-yarder last week in Orlando against Central Florida. So, Jim Leavitt and Co. have replaced him with Maikon Bonani, a true freshman that is originally from the pigskin hotbed of Brazil. It will be interesting to watch how he does in his first real collegiate action, so keep an eye out for him as well. With how close these two teams appear to be, a single kicking mistake could be the very difference between actually winning the football game and losing it. Honest.
Things to Watch For #4 - Matt Grothe Running the Ball :: It will often depend on the situation, but one thing to pay careful attention to is just how many times Grothe abandons the pocket and instead opts to run the ball downfield. He obviously will be running the ball a substantial amount tonight on designed runs, and that shouldn't be something to watch out for. However, if he is having to improvise and evacuate the pocket, it is a good sign of our secondary. However, on the same note, it will be imperative for us to, once he crosses the line of scrimmage, make the tackle quickly and efficiently. The last thing we need is for Grothe's legs and improvisation to keep drives alive. It's only fun when Todd Reesign does it. Honest.
Things to Watch For #3 - Kansas CBs versus South Florida WRs :: As I mentioned in my offensive preview, South Florida has a WR in Taurus Johnson that is frightening. He will easily be the best WR we have seen thus far this year, and will l ikely be the best one until we make a trip down to Norman. He is an excellent deep threat, and combining that with Grothe's scary-good ability to drop the deep throws in the bucket, he presents a sizable worry in the Kansas fan's pysche. Chris Harris figures to see him most of the time; what should be Chris Harris' toughest test yet as a collegian by far.
Plus, without Kendrick Harper we are having to go with a redshirt freshman in Isiah Barfield at the other corner position. There other wideouts aren't tremendous by any stretch of the imagination, but Jessie Hester is a pretty good one. And, if Barfield ever is forced to matchup with him one-on-one, we could be in big-time trouble. For us to have a shot, Barfield is going to have to grow up in a hurry. Honest.
Things to Watch For #2 - USF O-Line versus KU D-Line :: South Florida's offensive line is immensely veteranified, containing four senior starters and only one sophomore starter. The sophomore starter, RG Jacob Sims, is a reserve as well as being a youngin', so he figures to be the weak point of the line. Still, having to go up against four senior starters at all of the other positions, especially considering our DT rotation figures to contain a true sophomore (Jamal Greene), a redshirt freshman (Richard Johnson Jr.) and a true freshman (Darius Parish), is a bitch.
We are going to have to get pressure on Grothe to force him out of the pocket, which in turn will bring up TtWF point #4. But if Grothe has all the time in the world back there to analyze the D and settle down, it will be big time trouble. Also, it isn't nearly as fun to have to blitz Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen, although they are tremendous blitzers. Still, when they blitz they are, obviously, taken out of coverage, which is dangerous against a QB as good as Grothe. I know it will be a lot to ask for, but if we can get consistent pressure on Grothe from anywhere on the D-Line, we will win the game. Even if it requires a heavier dosage of more pass-rushing specialists in Max Onyegbule. Whatever it takes, it is the most important thing our D can do. Honest.
Things to Watch For #1 - Jeff Spikes versus George Selvie :: As I mentioned in an earlier post, I analytically watched the USF-UCF game. And I've gotta tell you; Selvie was an absolute beast. Central Florida's starting LT was an All-CUSA LT last season and will make his 40th start of his career tomorrow, and yet Selvie consistently found his away around him (or through him). They often found it necessary to keep in the LG or TE to help him out, and still Selvie was occasionally a presence in the backfield.
However, where he stood out the most was in the running game. Whenever they ran at the LE, on the opposite side of the line of Selvie, he simply pushed his blocker away, sprinted down the line and made the tackle, often arriving at the same time as the LB on THAT SIDE. I'm not talking chasing him down the field; I'm talking that he makes the tackle on the other side of the line at the line of scrimmage. Scary good.
One thing I did notice, however, is that he was a virtual non-factor at the end of the game. The LT, alone, physically dominated him like three consecutive plays on one of UCF's end-of-game scoring drives. I don't know if it was a side-effect of a block-in-the-back he had taken a couple of drives back, where he had to have hurt his back, or what, but he clearly wasn't himself.
In any case, this could be the biggest, most important three hours of Jeff Spikes' life. Even if we go on and he plays in more important games against better overall defenses, it isn't likely that he will ever face as dominant of a player as a Selvie, particularly taking into account that he is only a redshirt freshman making his third career start.
The other things to watch out for, #5-#2, are obviously important. Otherwise, I wouldn't have listed them. But this final matchup, IMO, will decide the game. No matter what anyone else says. If Spikes can give Reesing time, hello victory on the shoulders of Hot Toddy. However, if Spikes struggles, as every single person seems to be expecting (even those predicting Kansas to win), it will be exponentially tougher for us to come away with a W.
It's on you, big fella. And sure, you'll get help, but sometimes you'll be all alone on an island. Not many times are OTs so singled out and hyped before a game, but Spikes is THAT important to this game.