Charlie Strong’s First Order Of Business–Defense

USF’s Defense Needs Addressing

USF Bulls’ new head coach Charlie Strong has a lot on his agenda between now and next season, but there’s a few urgencies he might need to address sooner rather than later.

While gathering a good coaching staff is at the top of his list of things to do, correcting the Bull Shark Defense is up there as well.

The Bulls had an overtime victory in the Birmingham Bowl that came down to a touchdown after having an 18-point lead. While it was an exciting victory, blowing an 18-point lead isn’t a good look for this defense. Bulls’ fans have been skeptical about the defense all year.

Photo: USF Athletics

It’s not like this is a surprise problem, as midway through the season USF Defensive Coordinator Raymond Woodie started to feel some doubt from fans. At the time Willie Taggart defended Woodie and called for some different type of changes.

“Very disappointed in our defense. And that’s on me, I’ve got to do a better job coaching our players and our coaches,” Taggart said after USF’s disappointing loss to Florida State, who had 647 total yards of offense. Dalvin Cook also ran all over the field with 329 all-purpose yards.

After sitting in the coaches’ box for the first eight games, Woodie made his way down to the field for USF’s game against then-ranked Navy.The Bulls ended up winning that game 52-45, but true to Bulls fashion the defense started falling a part in the second half.

“I think it helped out, probably the most important thing is the communication part of it and players understanding exactly what he wants and where he wants them. So I think it helped,” Taggart had said about Woodie’s move to the field.

USF fell apart against Navy, who put up 616 total yards in their loss to the Bulls and outscored the Bulls 31-10 in the second half, and then did it again in the Birmingham Bowl.

“I was a little disappointed in the way our defense played in the second half to give up all those passes when we knew they had to throw the football to get back in it. It was very disappointing to give up those yards at the end,” Taggart said after the Navy game.

Of course, it’s hard for any defense to truly shine when their offense is one of the most explosive in the country. An offense that in fact had 36 scoring drives five plays or under. Though the offense didn’t necessarily snap the ball quick, they averaged 27:07 minutes of possession per game this year, which in turn resulted in a defense that was on the field longer.

“The thing we need to tell those guys on offense is to slow down and give our defense a rest. You see so many explosive offenses. … The thing that happens on defense, you don’t want to turn it into a score match,” Strong said during his introductory ceremony. “Guys used to say we want to hold a team to 17 points a game, under 300 yards. That’s not happening anymore. The way the game is now, there’s so many athletes on offense. Your defense is back on the field.”

While the Gulf Coast Offense ranked number one in scoring offense in the American Athletic Conference, the defense ranked 10th in scoring defense and dead last in total defense and pass defense.

So bringing a defensive-minded head coach to the program was a great move by USF. Strong was present at the Birmingham Bowl and got to see first hand this struggles the USF defense has been facing majority of the year.

Photo: USF Athletics

It’s not that USF is lacking defensive talent though.

When it came down to it the Bulls defense always held true during the final seconds and plays of a game. That was displayed in the Birmingham Bowl as well as a handful of other games this season. Once the offense got the go ahead lead the Bull Shark Defense held on to keep that lead in overtime in Birmingham. It also happened against SMU as Deatrick Nichols hauled in an interception as the Bulls clang to a 35-27 lead with five minutes remaining in the game.

So the talent is there and the real question is whether or not Woodie is still the man for the job? Right now it’s a coin flip because he could be but something has to change before next season if the Bulls want to expand on their record season.

There’s always the old saying that “defenses win championships” and that’s what USF could be on track to do but something has to give when it comes to the defense.

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Allison Leslie is a University of South Florida graduate with a bachelors degree in Mass Communications. She joined Genesis in 2016. With a passion for sports, Allison has interned with 620 WDAE, Pewter Report, Trifecta Team: St. Petersburg Bowl, Bullscast, and many other publications. Being a native to the Bay Area, she has followed and supported Tampa Bay teams her whole life.