ORLANDO, Fla. – After a season of buildup, anticipation and “what-if” scenarios, the War on I4 is finally here. South Florida travels to the bounce house for a winner-take-all game that will carry the winner to the conference championship game against Memphis next weekend.
This year’s installment pits an undefeated No. 15 UCF team clawing their way up the national rankings against a high-powered USF team that was unanimously picked to win the division in AAC preseason polls. For UCF, it is a chance not only to finish the regular season undefeated for the first time in school history but to wash away the taste left from last year’s lass in Tampa.
Quinton Flowers and Co.
Flowers exploded onto the scene in 2016 with a breakout season under Coach Taggert, emerging as one of the premier talents across the entire conference.
He has taken a step or two backward in learning Charlie Strong’s system, only completing 53.5% of his passes in the new offense. The Senior out of Miami has accounted for 26 total touchdowns this season, seventeen through the air and another nine on the ground.
The Bulls are putting up the conference’s fourth most points per game at 37.9, having scored less than thirty in just two games this season – in their only loss against Houston, and then again last week against Tulsa in the team’s senior night.
USF’s senior night performance was the worst offensive showing of the season with just 27 points.
The Bulls own the American Athletic Conference’s most effective scoring and total defense, keeping opponents under twenty points and 323.5 yards per game – a stark contrast to the 522 yards and 48 points that UCF is racking up on a weekly basis.
“Their M.O. is to pressure the quarterback, is to put more guys at the line of scrimmage than you can block, to get after it, cause disruption and fly around. When the ball is thrown in the air – they have seventeen interceptions – so when the ball is thrown they’ve got guys in the secondary to go get it. We’ve got out work cut out for us,” admitted UCF Offensive Coordinator Troy Walters this week.
Defensive Tackle Bruce Hector has led the charge for South Florida, pairing his seven total sacks with the team-wide, AAC-leading team sack total. McKenzie Milton saw serious pressure at times from the Temple pass rush last week and should feel the heat once again in Orlando.
USF 6, UCF 2.
Orlando’s Hometown Team has long played catch up to their neighbors down the I4 Corridor, having fudged most of the meetings between the two.
Recent years have brought about a remarkable resurgence to the rivalry, as UCF beat the Bulls on the way to the Fiesta Bowl and then again in the following season before dropping the 2015 and 2016 games – one as a shutout and the latter nailed shut with a last-second, superfluous touchdown from Taggert’s crew.
“We’re looking forward to it a lot. USF is a very good team, we’ve got to come prepared and we’ve really been wanting this game since last year. we all remember what happened last year. Basically, it’s like payback and we’re ready. Ready to go to war,” said UCF Wide Receiver Tre’Quan Smith.
McKenzie Milton said this week that there is ‘bad blood’ between the programs, but that they would treat it like any other game. Anybody who has followed this team understands that it will be much more.