Bulls may shift Popek back to LT vs. Ball State
TAMPA -- As USF looks to correct the offensive line problems that limited the Bulls in last week's 23-13 loss to Rutgers, the Bulls are considering moving senior Mark Popek back to left tackle and inserting senior Damien Edwards in at left guard for Saturday's game at Ball State.
USF coach Skip Holtz, who has expressed frustration over they way sophomores Austin Reiter and Darrell Williams handled their first Big East starts in the Rutgers loss, said the staff is evaluating its options and could use a mix of combinations Saturday.
"Just trying to look at a rotation back over there," Holtz said. "With Darrell, Damien has played both, Mark has played both. Darrell as a young guy has only played tackle. If something were to happen to Darrell, do you move Mark out? How do you do it? We're kind of in a rotation process right now with those guys. They'll probably all play. The flexibility of the two fifth-year seniors in Mark Popek and Damien Edwards, having the ability to play guard or tackle, both on the left side, kind of helps us right now."
Another potential lineup tweak could be on defense, where safety Ernie Tabuteau won't be back in his role as the Bulls' nickel defensive back after missed assignments on third downs in the Rutgers loss. Holtz said one option would be using sophomore linebacker Reshard Cliett, with strongside linebacker Sam Barrington moving inside to middle linebacker in that package. Holtz said he would eventually like to have younger linebackers like Cliett, redshirt freshman Zack Bullock and true freshman Tashon Whitehurst getting more playing time as well.
"Eventually, that transition needs to happen to make this football team complete at linebacker," Holtz said. "Until Reshard was ready to step up and play that role, we felt like we have three very capable players in (current starters) (Michael) Lanaris, (DeDe) Lattimore and Sam Barrington."
THIS AND THAT: Running back Marcus Shaw, who has missed two games with an ankle injury, has shown enough progress that he'll travel with the Bulls to Ball State. Holtz said he "did some good things" and that he was "really pleased and encouraged with the progress he's made." Shaw was the Bulls' leading rusher in the opening win against I-AA Chattanooga. ... Safety JaQuez Jenkins has been held out the last two practices with lingering back issues, but Holtz was confident he'd be cleared to practice Thursday. Holtz has a general policy of not having a player start if they don't practice on Tuesday or Wednesday of a normal game week, and not playing if they don't practice by Thursday.