After starting the season 0-4 before AAC play, the South Florida Bulls hosted 3-1 Cincinnati in a game they were expected to lose. Thanks to two first half touchdowns on defense and special teams, the Bulls built an early lead and held on despite a poor overall performance on offense. But their defense was tenacious especially in the first half, which led to a few big performances from their defensive stars.
DeDe Lattimore, LB, USF (#34), 6’1, 237
Lattimore leads South Florida in tackles this season and while he had just 5 tackles (4 solo) against Cincinnati, his impact was felt in other ways. Lattimore picked up a fumble in the second quarter and returned it 10 yards for a touchdown to give South Florida a 20-6 lead they would never relinquish. The redshirt senior was around the ball consistently and showed great awareness reading quarterback Brendan Kay’s intentions, breaking to cut off his hot routes when he was in trouble and aborting a blitz to spy him and prevent a big third-down scramble.
Lattimore also showed potential as a three-down linebacker with the ability to stay with receivers underneath, breaking up passes and making tackles when he didn’t get a hand on the ball. He will bite on combination routes and while he fills hard and lays hard hits on ballcarriers, he will miss tackles when he goes too high and at just 237 pounds sometimes finds himself blocked out of the play. Lattimore could get some looks from 4-3 teams in the middle rounds, as he can flow to the ball when left unblocked and take care of underneath responsibilities in coverage.
(RS Soph) Aaron Lynch, DE, USF (#19), 6’6, 244
Just a redshirt sophomore, Lynch was rated highly among underclassmen after being named a Freshman All-American at Notre Dame. Lynch had 5.5 sacks, 7 tackles for loss and a team-high 14 pressure despite starting just six games and looked like a great future prospect. After sitting out a year once he transferred to South Florida, Lynch has lost steam as a prospect in his first draft-eligible season. The major issue with Lynch is functional strength and an extremely thin frame, which leads to him easily being blocked out of rushing plays.
Lynch has great speed off the line and can win outside by bending and ripping through offensive tackles but also shows a quick move to the inside and the acceleration to get by opposing tackles. He has long arms but rushes often with his head down and misses opportunities for batted balls. Outside of a few pressures against the Bearcats, Lynch was largely invisible and wasn’t an every-down player. Lynch’s athletic ability is tantalizing but in order to be anything more than a situational pass rusher, he will need to add bulk before testing the NFL Draft waters. Even then, he likely will only fit in as a 3-4 rush linebacker.
Greg Blair, LB, Cincinnati, 6’2, 252
I was a big fan of Blair’s in preseason work but came away from this game more impressed with Lattimore, although they are different players. While Lattimore is smaller, faster and better in underneath coverage, Blair is a better fit in a 3-4 where he can read the play, work through the trash and make tackles. He forced an early fumble by leading into the ball with his shoulder and flowed nicely to the action all game. Blair shows the patience to let a play begin to develop, the awareness to see where it’s going and the ability to avoid and shed blockers on his way to the ball.
Blair weighed 265 pounds at one point last season and one of the biggest issues scouts had with him was speed and range. Blair lost 15 pounds in the offseason and showed the range to get outside and make tackles on plays stretching to the sideline while not losing the strength to shed blockers at the second level. He has a tendency to lunge for runners’ ankles that led to a few missed tackles in the hole against USF but did show some ability covering the Bulls’ tight ends. Blair may not make many plays in an opponents’ backfield, especially since the Bearcats keep him in the middle, but he’s a reliable linebacker who will make plenty of stops in the box.
-Sophomore running back Tion Green was impressive in the second half and ended up leading the Cincinnati running backs with 8 carries. Ralph David Abernathy and Hosey Williams have carried the ball more this season but Green is their most complete running back, showing both speed and burst through the hole and power to run through high tackles. Abernathy has some Jacquizz Rodgers to his game but may have trouble convincing NFL scouts his 161-pound frame won’t be an issue.
-Senior star running back Marcus Shaw was hurt early for USF, which was a major reason their offense sputtered all day along with starting quarterback Steven Bench’s injury. Michael Pierre ran well in Shaw’s place though, totaling 61 yards on the ground on 16 carries. He showed good cutback ability and burst with the ability to quickly get to the second level. A one-cut, downhill runner, Pierre has decent size (5’10, 202) and the power to run through arm tackles.
-South Florida got solid safety play all game, especially from senior Mark Joyce. Joyce intercepted two passes on the day and consistently made plays around the line of scrimmage, including one tackle for loss and a few other stops for short gains. Freshman Nate Godwin also made an interception, reading Brendan Kay’s eyes and showing impressive ball skills to make the sideline pick. Senior Fidel Montgomery led the Bulls with 9 tackles (4 solo), but also blew a late coverage to allow a Cincinnati TD to cut the USF lead to six points.