Photo: Citadel quarterback Brandon Rainey (16) rolls out to pass against Alabama during a game in 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama (Courtesy: Butch Dill, Associated Press – File)
As seen in The Post and Courier, by Jeff Hartsell
There’s no particular reason why a football player at the University of South Florida should know much about The Citadel, a tiny FCS military school in South Carolina.
But you can bet almost every Bulls player knows something about superpower Alabama and legendary coach Nick Saban.
And that’s why a video of The Citadel’s 10-10 halftime tie with a No. 1-ranked Alabama team in 2018 was on new South Florida coach Jeff Scott’s must-watch list for his players. Scott, the former Clemson co-offensive coordinator, is set to make his college head-coaching debut when the Bulls host the Bulldogs at 1 p.m. Saturday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
Alabama ended up beating The Citadel 50-17 that day in Tuscaloosa, but the first 30 minutes were all Scott needed to make his point.
“We went back and showed our guys clips from that game,” Scott said last week. “And one of the best lines came after The Citadel scored its first touchdown. The commentator said, ‘That’s the first points the Alabama defense has given up in 11 quarters.’
“That gets everybody’s attention right there.”
The Citadel ran for 275 yards against Alabama, averaging 4.6 yards per carry and holding the ball for 36 minutes, 23 seconds.
“Nick Saban told his guys, ‘This is a group over there who want to shrink the game,’ Scott said. “It’s limited possessions.”
At USF, Scott is replacing former coach Charlie Strong and taking over a squad that was 4-8 overall last season and 2-6 in the American Athletic Conference. Strong went 10-2 and then 7-6 in his first two seasons with the Bulls.
There might be easier ways for a coach to make his debut than against a triple-option team with a jones for FBS upsets (The Citadel beat Georgia Tech last year, the only FCS team to beat an FBS squad in 2019). But Scott said USF chose The Citadel from among several candidates when revamping its schedule after the coronavirus pandemic shut down much of college football for the 2020 season.
“We chose The Citadel,” Scott said. “And part of the reason, other than that we have a lot of respect for them and their program, is that we are going to play Navy later in the year. And Navy is always tough in our conference. Our goal is to find a way to compete and win in this conference, so we have to find a way to beat the option.
“It was the same way for us at Clemson with Georgia Tech. You better go attack it and figure it out.”
In a 35-3 loss to Navy and its triple-option last year, the Bulls allowed 434 rushing yards and 7.4 yards per attempt.
“To face this type of offense in the first game, it’s different,” Scott said. “In a normal year, the first game is about us and what we do. But the option is a different task for everyone, and this defense is going out there for the first time against a well-oiled machine. These guys are very confident, and they know what they are doing. It reminds me of the Georgia Tech teams when they had experienced guys back.
“If we’re not ready, not prepared and not reading our keys, we can get embarrassed very quickly.”
South Florida’s defensive coordinator is Glenn Spencer, who has held the same title at Florida Atlantic, Charlotte and Oklahoma State.
One of Spencer’s main jobs is to fix USF’s run defense. In 2018 and 2019, the Bulls ranked 122nd (247.5 yards per game) and 114th (208.6), respectively, in run defense, allowing 17 individual 100-yard rushing efforts during that 25-game span.
Spencer coaches a “30-float” scheme, with three down linemen up front and lots of movement in the back eight.
The Bulls lost three senior defensive ends from last season, but return a trio of linebackers in Antonio Green, Andrew Mims and Dwayne Boyles. Devin Gil, a transfer linebacker from Michigan, has opted out of the season.