Coming off a thrilling shootout victory over nationally-ranked Clemson, the fourth-ranked Florida State Seminoles take a break from ACC action, as the make the short trip to Tampa to take on the South Florida Bulls.
It was a showdown between the top two teams in the ACC, but it was Florida State which earned the a 49-37 win over Clemson to move to 4-0 on the young season. Jimbo Fisher's squad is loaded on both sides of the football and cleared its first huge obstacle with the win over the Tigers.
Skip Holtz's Bulls opened the season with a pair of wins over FCS foe Chattanooga (34-13) and Nevada (32-31). However, USF is back to .500 on the year with back-to-back losses to Rutgers (23-13) and most recently, Ball State (31-27).
South Florida won the only previous meeting between these two teams, posting a 17-7 win in Tallahassee in 2009.
Florida State's offense has caught up to its defense this season, culminating in a explosion of 667 yards last weekend against nationally-ranked Clemson. The numbers on the season are just as inflated, with FSU ranking second nationally in scoring (56.3 ppg), eighth in rushing (281.0 ypg) and fourth in total offense (574.5 ypg).
Quarterback E.J. Manuel has been the perfect field general for this team. The veteran signal-caller boasts of a 180.23 efficiency rating thus far, completing 73.4 percent of his passes, for 905 yards, with eight touchdowns and just one interception.
He comes into this contest off his best career performance, passing for over 300 yards and rushing for over 100 against Clemson. Fisher was encouraged by Manuel's near flawless performance.
"I can't remember off the top of my head a bad decision all night," Fisher said about Manuel. "... EJ Manuel like I say all the time, I get to coach him every day and look in his eyes and know how he works and what he does and what he thinks, he is a tremendous young man. A great leader for our football team."
The passing game is bolstered by an explosive ground attack that has already accounted for 20 touchdowns in four games. Tailbacks Chris Thompson (357 yards, 10.8 ypc) and James Wilder Jr. (285 yards, 7.0 ypc) have been quite the tandem, combining for 11 rushing TDs to date.
The FSU defense has definitely had its hands in the team's flawless record. The Seminoles enter this contest ranked sixth in the nation in scoring defense (10.0 ppg), fifth in rush defense (59.3 ypg), fourth in pass defense (124.8 ypg) and second in total defense (184.0 ypg).
The unit has already had to deal with adversity, as starting cornerback Greg Reid was dismissed prior to the start of the season and All-ACC rush end Brandon Jenkins was lost to injury early on. Others have filled the voids in both areas of the defense. Ends Cornellius Carradine and Bjoern Werner have caused fits for opposing quarterbacks this season. Carradine leads the team in tackles (19) and ranks second in both TFLs (6.5) and sacks (5.5). Werner has 15 total tackles and leads the team in both TFLs (9.0) and sacks (6.5). Cornerback Xavier Rhodes gives the team All-American talent in the secondary.
The Bulls have a solid offensive scheme, predicated on the play of veteran quarterback B.J. Daniels. As a whole, USF is averaging 439.0 yards per game, with 290.2 coming via the pass.
Daniels has struggled taking care of the football this season, with six interceptions thus far, but he remains a dual threat, with the ability to both run (47.0 ypg) and pass the ball effectively (285.5 ypg). Andre Davis has been his top target downfield, leading USF in receptions (23), receiving yards (309) and TD catches (3).
The Bulls have had some difficulties with consistency on the defensive side of the ball this year, especially against the run (160.8 ypg). Big plays have also been few and far between, with just four fumble recoveries and no interceptions.
Junior LB DeDe Lattimore paces the Bulls in tackles (36), TFLs (4.5) and sacks (2.5). Senior LB Mike Lanaris ranks second in stops (29), followed closely by senior LB Sam Barrington (27), who has forced two fumbles on the year.
Holtz knows his team faces an uphill battle in this contest.
"This is probably the best football team we've played since I've been here," Holtz said. "At the same time, we've played in some big football games in the past. You have to line up and you have to play it. I don't think the players will be intimidated."