Last Modified: Thursday, August 29, 2013 10:44 AM
There is an element of surprise to any season opener.
Something will always be different about an opponent from the last time they took the field, whether it is personnel, assistant coaches or scheme.
The ability to scout your first foe becomes even tougher when that team has an entirely new coaching staff. Matt Viator and McNeese State faced that scenario against Kansas in 2011, and will do so again Saturday at South Florida as the Bulls play their first game under 37-year-old head coach Willie Taggart.
“We’re going to see different things Week 1 regardless. They’ll see different things from us,” Viator said. “Last year we went in and they had a new defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee, so it’s kind of the same boat as that. You have to adjust, go out there and get a feel of what’s going on. Use your instincts on what you feel they’re going to do and kind of go on that.”
The Cowboys have one ace up their sleeve in the form of defensive coordinator Lance Guidry, who served in the same capacity for Taggart at Western Kentucky the last two seasons.
Guidry’s knowledge of Taggart’s offensive tendencies is canceled out by Taggart’s knowledge of Guidry’s tendencies.
“I think it does balance itself out,” Guidry said. “We’re both going to be a little bit different than what we showed the other one. It’s like two teams who have played each other twice and each won one. You’re saying ‘What can we do to tweak this? What did we do that worked well?’ It’s going to be a cat-and-mouse game. But it will all come down to the players.”
What is known about the Bulls offense is that it is on the opposite end of the football spectrum from Oregon. Taggart’s WKU team ranked in the national top 10 in time of possession last season.
“They are the anti-Oregon,” Guidry said. “They’re going to snap the ball with one second left. They’re going to shift, they’ll motion to see if they can gain leverage on you. They might kill the play or let it roll. And that clock’s just eating away.”
Sophomore Matt Floyd will get the start at quarterback after winning a four-man competition in training camp. He made two starts at the end of last season, though they did not go particularly well. Floyd was 57 of 110 with no touchdowns and five interceptions in seven appearances.
Floyd’s most dangerous target is diminutive wideout Derrick Hopkins. The 5-foot-5, 158-pounder is a former Big East champion in the 200-meter dash, and has clocked a faster 60-meter time than Chicago Bears All-Pro returner Devin Hester.
Defensively, the Bulls’ 3-9 campaign in 2012 was underscored by a true statistical anomaly. USF managed two interceptions all season — the worst mark in the country.
The Bulls hope to improve on that total by creating confusion with their pass rush, and should have the talent to do so up front.
Notre Dame transfer Aaron Lynch is making his USF debut at defensive end, and is on the Nagurski and Lombardi Award watch lists. The 6-6, 244-pound Lynch recorded 5.5 sacks for the Fighting Irish as a freshman in 2011.
“He sat out last year, so we haven’t seen him play,” Viator said. “We know he’s long and athletic. We’re going to have to be smart. The thing is, both of their ends are pretty good. Sometimes when they have just one, you can game plan a lot better than with two. We’ll have to try to offset their speed.”
Lynch’s counterpart, Ryne Giddins, was second-team all-Big East in 2011, when he had 11 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.
The middle of the USF defense is patrolled by linebacker DeDe Lattimore, who is on the Butkus Award watch list.
“Their defensive front as a whole, including the linebackers, are really good,” Viator said.