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South Florida in the Birmingham Bowl is a very bad matchup for South Carolina

Let’s just be completely honest with ourselves.

South Florida v Cincinnati
The guy on the right (Quinton Flowers) is pretty good.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Yesterday, when the Gamecocks’ potential bowl opponents were pretty much nailed down, I wrote this about South Florida:

I absolutely hate this matchup for the Gamecocks. This is a USF team that hung 35 on Florida State...and is led by an up-and-comer in Willie Taggart that might find himself at a Power 5 school before long. We know that Carolina had difficulty keeping Western Carolina off the scoreboard a few weeks ago. How will they do against the Bulls, who feature one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country (with all due respect to that Lamar Jackson guy) in junior Quinton Flowers?

Prognosis: This could get ugly.

A day later, I’m going to say it again: I absolutely hate this matchup for the Gamecocks. No, not because I’m a negative blogger that doesn’t have “confidence” in the team, but because South Florida is a very good team that could give a bunch of Power 5 teams a run for their money. They have a quarterback in Flowers that has thrown for 2,551 yards and 22 touchdowns, has only thrown six (!) interceptions all year, and has been sacked just 13 times. This same quarterback has rushed for 1,425 yards and 15 touchdowns on just 177 carries, an 8.1 ypc average. Not only that, but the Bulls also have a second 1,000+ yard rusher in Marlon Mack to boot. The Gamecocks have allowed 202.8 yards a game on the ground. You do the math.

The Bulls score a lot of points. They average 43.6 points a game, putting them at seventh in FBS. And you can hand it to the Gamecocks: apart from Clemson, they’ve done a decent job keeping teams off the scoreboard. Their first ten opponents were held under 28 points before they gave up 31 to FCS Western Carolina and 56 to the Tigers. That averages out to about 24.8 points allowed per game. Only two other teams - Temple (17.2) and UCF (24.1) have given up less points than the Gamecocks this year. But bear in mind that the Bulls scored 30 on the Owls (in a loss) and 48 on the Knights. It is possible to score on USF (they’ve allowed 31 points and 482 yards a game), but the Gamecocks simply don’t have it in them to get into a shootout with this team because they simply don’t have enough firepower.

The Gamecocks need to stick to the formula that has gotten them wins this year: an active defense. Temple shut down the run game in the two teams’ meeting a few weeks ago, while the Bulls struggled with ball security in their win against UConn earlier this season. Unfortunately, a team like USF doesn’t turn it over all that much, so the Gamecocks will need to rely on their defensive front to limit big plays and keep Flowers from hurting them with his feet. They’ll also need to button up a secondary that struggled in the late going (i.e. Jamarcus King) to prevent Flowers from stretching the field as he’s done often this year.

I’m not saying that an upset is out of the realm of possibility. As the old cliche goes, football games aren’t won on paper. But this is just a team that is more talented than the Gamecocks are at this point in time.