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Notre Dame Football

Scouting Report | South Florida

September 16, 2020
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South Florida won the head coaching debut of former Clemson assistant Jeff Scott by beating a Citadel program 27-6. It has to feel good for them after not having the most ideal offseason.

They’ve had seven players opt out before the season and were missing a dozen more players in week one. Not having 19 scholarship players would be devastating to any team so for them to come out with a win, even against an FCS foe, is something worth celebrating.

They’ll be facing a much more challenging opponent this week when they travel to Notre Dame. Those seven opt outs won’t be there and who knows how many of those dozen who missed last week will be available or if others will be added to the list. It will be a short-handed team and one that was already picked to finish near the basement of the AAC.

Scott has been open about this being a rebuilding situation for him after taking over from Charlie Strong and if they can keep this game close, it will be considered a win for USF.

Injuries and Opt Outs

Out of the seven who opted out, two Michigan transfers leap out as players who would have helped them this year. WR Eddie McDoom would have been in the mix catching passes and LB Devin Gil was projected to be a starter on defense.

Out of the 12 that missed last week, three were projected to be starting offensive lineman: LT Donovan Jennings, LG Demetris Harris, and C Brad Cecil.

Even if all of those guys come back, they are going to have a tough time blocking Notre Dame’s front four. Also included in that 12 was North Carolina QB transfer Cade Fortin who was considered to be competing to start for them. They played three quarterbacks against Citadel so we’ll see if Fortin gets involved this week against the Irish.

Offense

In Willie Taggart’s last season, they were one of the most explosive offenses in college football. They finished sixth in yards per play (7.17).

That was back in 2016 and this is their third head coach since then. Last year they dropped all the way down to 109th in YPP. They lack top end talent so the ability to be explosive isn’t there for them like it was when Taggart ran the program.

Charlie Weis Jr. was hired by Scott to run the offense after being the coordinator at Florida Atlantic under Lane Kiffin the last two seasons. His offense looked good when he had NFL talent, but they dipped to 57th in YPP last season.

Though he’s a bright young offensive mind, he’s not going to make them dynamic overnight.

Expected Strengths

Johnny Ford rushed for 787 yards and 6.84 yards per carry in 2018, but didn’t play as much last season due to disciplinary reasons. He is a jitterbug type who has the speed to get the corner. If Notre Dame isn’t disciplined with their run fits, he could break one and open things up for their offense.

Kelley Joiner is the other top back and he could play on a lot of teams across the country. He rushed for 115 yards against a pretty good Memphis defense last season and had a nice start in the opener.

The running game in general is going to be solid for them if they can get the athletes out in space. They were able to do so against the Citadel and rushed 7.74 yards per carry and 302 total yards in the opener.

Potential Weaknesses

They don’t have a receiver who caught more than 22 passes last season and didn’t have a receiver catch a ball for longer than 20-yards last week. They haven’t shown that they have the talent to win on the outside or the quarterback play to be consistently a threat throwing the ball.

The offensive line was expected to be one of the worst in the conference. They finished 127th in sack rate last season and it looks like they will run a lot of quick game to help them out.

If the line isn’t healthy against Notre Dame, this could get really ugly in a hurry once they get into obvious passing situations.

Scheme

Their base offense is 11 personnel (one back, one tight end) and they want to get on the ball and play at a fast pace. They are small, but have speed across the board, so they want to take advantage of that with outside zone to get their runners on the edge.

The quarterback is a threat to run with read option and designed runs, which is one reason why Noah Johnson might be the guy for them this week at quarterback.

In the last two years at Florida Atlantic, the offense was in the top-20 in plays per game and I think Charlie Weis Jr. is going to try and have the same tempo with USF.

Like many teams they often send a slot in motion to try and open up seams in the running game. They aren’t a heavy team with their personnel and will try and spread teams out more than play constricted. Formationally it looks pretty similar to Clemson.

Key Players

RB Johnny Ford - Broke off a 41-yard run against Citadel last week and has shown he is capable of breaking off big runs over his career.

QB Jordan McCloud - Averaged only 4.3 YPA and had a QBR of 19.8. Will be interesting to see if the job is still his if Fortin is healthy. He only had four throws travel more than 10 yards down the field last week.

QB Noah Johnson - Ran for 49 yards on seven carries and scored a touchdown on a scramble.

RB Kelley Joiner - Averaged 5.1 YPC last season. Can make a defender miss in the hole and gets to top speed in a hurry.

RT Jarrett Hopple - A player who originally signed with Virginia Tech out of high school, Hopple struggled in pass protection against the Citadel giving up three pressures, including two sacks.

Key Matchup for Notre Dame

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah vs Ford - This should be two fast football players put in one on one situations a lot with JOK having to tackle well in space.

Defense

Glenn Spencer ran the FAU defense in 2019 and they made massive improvements in his one year there by getting more pressure on the quarterback and creating more Havoc. He won’t have to improve things as much for USF as he did at FAU and he also is inheriting some talented players as well.

Much like Duke, this defense will present some challenges to Notre Dame’s offense with their speed, especially at the second and third level of their defense. But this group couldn’t get off the field (120th in 3rd down defense in 2019) and may struggle to do so again if they can’t find a pass rush from their front.

Expected Strengths

This defense finished 5th in tackles for loss last season and they have a couple of linebackers returning who contributed greatly to that.

Mike linebacker Antonio Grier is an old school downhill player. He’s very physical and a good blitzer inside. Linebacker Dwayne Boyles led the team in TFLs last season with 12.5 and he chipped in 1.5 last week to kick off 2020.

Safety Vincent Davis is a sideline to sideline athlete who is all over the field. He only started one game last season for USF, but looks like he can be an impact defender for them this season. Safety Bentlee Sanders is another player who cover a lot of ground and had 1.5 TFLs last week.

The secondary is not as good as Duke’s, but KJ Sails is a quality corner and they can match up athletically with most teams.

Potential Weaknesses

Nose guard Kelvin Pinkney looked solid in week one and he will make Jarrett Patterson work, but they lack talent and depth and are losing some players up front. They don’t have any dominant players and anyone who should scare Notre Dame as a pass rusher.

This is a front Notre Dame should be able to wear down. They don’t have “dudes” to hang through four quarters with the size that Notre Dame presents. The finished 81st in yards per carry against them last season and Notre Dame should be able to pound the ball on them if the line can make key blocks at the second level.

Scheme

It’s hard to get a read on what we’ll see from them after playing a triple option team in the Citadel, but they should look a little like what Iowa State ran last season with a 3-3-5 with plenty of moving parts on the back end of the defense.

They are going to blitz a lot. That’s how they’ll have to generate pressure. Spencer wasn’t blitz happy at FAU. When they played Middle Tennessee State last season they blitzed only a handful of times on 51 drop backs. I imagine those numbers will go up because of his personnel at USF.

He has talked about overloading the run game to compensate for some holes with their front so that is something I’ll expect to see with him not as worried about protecting a veteran secondary.

Key Players

LB Dwayne Boyles - His 14.5 Havoc plays led the defense in 2019.

S Vincent Davis - Undersized at 5’11” 180, but they’ll ask him to help in the box to stop the run. A good perimeter defender.

LB Antonio Grier - He won’t look out of place on the field with Notre Dame’s players. Had 10 tackles last week.

S Bentlee Sanders - Another undersized player at 5’9” 175, but he can play at a high level.

CB KJ Sails - An NFL prospect. Had three interceptions and six pass breakups last season.

Key Matchup for Notre Dame

Pinkney vs Patterson - It was not a great start for Patterson. I don’t care what PFF thought, he had a tough time blocking a good player in Duke’s Derrick Tangelo. I don’t think Pinkney moves as well as Tangelo, but he’ll be stout at the point of attack and Patterson will have to work hard to move him.

Special Teams

USF was gifted a special teams touchdown last week when Citadel’s punter bobbled a ball in the end zone. Sails and Sanders both returned for them last season, but neither broke a game open.

Trent Schneider is returning as the punter, but was less than stellar in week one averaging 34.25 yards per punt. He averaged 46.0 last season, though. I don’t think he’ll be as bad this week.

Spencer Shrader is their kicker and he missed his only field goal attempt and an extra point against the Citadel.

When you lose so many players, special teams often takes a hit and when your specialists aren’t great on top of that, things could get ugly. They need much better play from their kickers.

 
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