Tech appeared to still be clinging onto a remnant of their past against Clemson on Thursday. The Jackets still relied heavily on the ground-game, rushing nearly twice as often as they passed. Perhaps that was out of necessity against a Clemson unit that averaged less than one passing touchdown per game last season, but the fact remains that with many leftovers from the Paul Johnson era, this team is still built to run. Expect Collins to lean even more heavily on his backs on Saturday, as USF allowed the 8th most rushing yards per game last season among FBS teams.
The Jackets were simply overwhelmed by one of the top offenses in the country Thursday as Clemson RB Travis Etienne ripped off 205 yards on just 12 attempts en route to scoring three touchdowns. At least Tech can take solace in that they held ascendant QB Trevor Lawrence to the worst passer rating of his career — even if it meant getting torched by Etienne. Tech has more experience on the defensive side of the ball, and it is going to have to show up against USF — last year, USF scored the second most points of any game of their season against the Jackets, hanging 49 points on Tech.
Of all of Tech’s units, no unit looked more exposed than the Jacket’s punt returners against Clemson. After forcing a third-and-out against Clemson’s usually unstoppable offense, the normally sure-handed Juanyeh Thomas fumbled an easy punt, handing the Tigers a quick red-zone opportunity. That incident set the tone for the rest of the night — Thomas recorded just one 14 yard kick return, and fellow returner Ahmarean Brown averaged 13.0 yards on both his attempts. Tech does not necessarily need big plays from their special teams at the moment — rather, they just need to avoid making unforced errors like they did in Death Valley.
Death, taxes and Blake Barnett at QB. Originally an Alabama commit back in 2015, Barnett has hopped around from program to program before finally getting his footing with the Bulls — all at the ripe old age of 23 years old. Barnett recorded 3000 total yards en route to leading South Florida to a 7-6 season last year, and he’s slotted back in at QB once more for the Bulls. The senior QB had a game to forget on Saturday against No. 19 Wisconsin, passing for just 109 yards on 30 attempts with 2 interceptions and no touchdowns, but he will look to rebound against Tech’s defense.
USF were monsters in the first half of last season, going 7-0 to kick off 2018. The Bulls then immediately collapsed, and lost out to finish 7-6. The principal culprit for their collapse? Defense. USF allowed just 25.7 points per game during their win-streak, but during their losing streak, that figure jumped to a gaudy 39.9 points. Things went little better for the Bulls in their opener against Wisconsin as the Badgers hung 49 points on USF. Defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary will need to find some way to stop the bleeding for a defensive unit that has been arguably the worst in college football since the streak began, else he risk giving ground to Tech’s upstart offense.
It will have been one year ago on Sunday that Terrance Horne terrorized the Jackets with two kick-off return touchdowns — only the fourteenth time a player recorded the feat since 2000. Disaster struck for Horne not long after, unfortunately — the red-shirt freshman tore his ACL during practice just a few weeks later, and it has been a slow road to recovery for the lightning fast kick-returner. Horne did not see the field against Wisconsin last week, nor did he appear on the depth chart in any capacity. Look for the Bulls to split kick-return opportunities between sophomore Bentlee Sanders and junior Brock Nichols.