Bulls depleted at cornerback going into Thursday test
TAMPA -- USF is dealing with major depth concerns at cornerback, with injuries piling up as the Bulls prepare for Thursday's home game against West Virginia and the No. 1 passing offense in the Big East.
"Not the game you want to limp into with injuries in your secondary, but nonetheless, this is where we are and this is the challenge that we face," coach Skip Holtz said Monday in previewing the Bulls' final regular-season game.
Starting cornerbacks Quenton Washington and Kayvon Webster suffered concussions when they collided helmet-to-helmet trying to block Miami's winning field goal two weeks ago, with Webster missing Friday's game against Louisville and Washington not being cleared until Wednesday. To make matters worse, Washington subluxated his shoulder during the game, missing the fourth quarter.
Those two are actually among the healthiest USF cornerbacks -- backup George Baker, who started for Webster on Friday, is questionable with bruised ribs (X-rays today); JaQuez Jenkins, another potential starter, continues to be limited by a hamstring injury. And the Bulls already lost backups Ricardo Dixon (torn ACL) and Ernie Tabuteau (back) to season-ending injuries, with another option, Spencer Boyd, suspended for a third game for what Holtz called an "in-house" problem.
"We've got a heck of a challenge this week, because we're banged up," defensive coordinator Mark Snyder. "We're thin.There's no doubt about it. We'll have to be smart with what we do and how we call the game."
The depth concerns are real enough that in Sunday's practice, walk-on Brandon Salinas -- who has two tackles this season -- as the top backup at both corner spots. With only three healthy safeties, another walk-on, Patrice Pierre, is the top backup at strong safety.
The Bulls will face a West Virginia offense that leads the Big East in passing yards by nearly 100 yards per game and has thrown 26 touchdown passes, six more than the closest team in the league. West Virginia has thrown the league's fewest interceptions (6) while completing 64.8 percent of its passes. There are three 1,000-yard receivers in the Big East this season and West Virginia has two of them, in Stedman Bailey (1,117 yards, 11 TDs) and Tavon Austin (1,009, 4 TDs).
"As a total group of receivers, probably as good as we've seen," defensive backs coach Rick Smith said. "Austin's special. He's got 80 catches. Bailey can run and jump, he's averaging 101 yards per game. Those two are real special. Geno Smith, 65 percent completions, what can you say about him? It's going to be a great, great challenge. If we can get everybody healthy and not lose somebody in the game ... that's why they keep score. You never know. Maybe we can get some picks."