'Cuse me: How 'bout that pooch punt
I've got a lot to say about Saturday's game, but I'm assuming a lot of you readers saw the game, either live or on TV, and already read a bunch of stories, so I'll start with something less known: another strange postgame interview with coach Jim Leavitt. (You can watch it online if you're a subscriber to USF's Press Pass premium product.)
Anyway, Leavitt has a habit -- I think it's his intention to make it seem like no win seems overly significant to him -- of opening his postgame comments with 2-3 minutes of detailed special-teams evaluations. Again, it's under his umbrella, so fair game, but when USF beats Syracuse 27-10, when Matt Grothe throws for 364 yards, when the defense gets seven sacks, you'd think he'd reference those things without prompting.
"I thought our pooch punt at the end was outstanding," Leavitt said, just 30 seconds into his comments, having addressed nothing else besides Delbert Alvarado's 56-yard field goal. "To put the ball on the 3-yard line, I thought that was great. I thought the punt with Teachey at the end of the game was a tremendous punt. He did a good job there."
So, to recap: USF's offense plays well enough that the Bulls don't punt until the fourth quarter, and Leavitt's instinct is to first laud ... that punt. Don't get me wrong -- great kick, well executed, and USF was only up 10, so it helped put the game away. And that "tremendous" punt that followed? A tremendous 34-yarder.
-- It's rare to hear Leavitt talk about anything outside the realm of football, so it was amusing to hear him drop in a reference to the 2005 Russell Crowe movie "Cinderella Man," about prize fighter James J. Braddock. It's one of Leavitt's favorites, and he watched it again Friday night, so in talking about Alvarado's kick, he said "Imagine what he would have done if he just had two steaks before the match." Getting a room full of blank looks, Leavitt explained himself, a little disappointedly, but I'll give him credit for sending off that halfcourt shot. Some of my favorite lines are ones I know only 10 percent of my readers might get. I'm giving myself the homework of renting the DVD and watching it on the flight up to Louisville on Friday, just so I can speak Leavitt a little more fluently. (And as a James Bond nerd who read all the Fleming novels back in middle school, I'm excited about "Casino Royale," so I'll squeeze that in Friday night most likely. With two little ones at home, we don't get to as many movies as we used to.)
-- I wrote my follow for Monday's paper on turnovers and penalties and how the Bulls continue to win despite themselves. They're one turnover shy of the school season record -- of the 23 I-A programs that are worst in turnover margin, USF is the only one that's bowl eligible. Penalties isn't a new problem for the Bulls -- they've ranked in the top six in the nation in flags every year since they went to I-A status in 2001. But if you look at their last two wins, they've got seven turnovers and 21 penalties -- do that in the next two weeks, it's going to be two very long trips home to Tampa.
-- Back to postgame: Leavitt's reluctance to throw praise toward Grothe (to keep him humble) is getting a bit silly. Asked about Grothe breaking Marquel Blackwell's records, both for yards in a game and yards in a freshman season, here's Leavitt: "Did he? Good job. He's a good quarterback. I'm not being ... I just heard about it. I'm sure if he plays well he'll break a number of records."
-- Leavitt's assistants are off limits to the media, as you know. So USF's offense rolls up 514 yards, most since the Bulls have been in the Big East, and what does Leavitt give Rod Smith credit for? Letting Grothe call it a game and putting Pat Julmiste in for the 3-yard touchdown run after USF recovered a Syracuse fumble in the fourth quarter with eight minutes left. "Rod got him in there. He wanted a bigger quarterback to run it in. Rod Smith did that, so give him credit for getting him in. I can't sit here and steal that I told him to Pat in there. I didn't."
-- Since this is the official home of walk-on news: Hard-luck get-well-soon vibes to freshman Luke Birge, who has this year's most unfortunate mishap, falling and breaking his collarbone (that's the injury I was told) while taking a victory lap to shake fans' hands after the game at Raymond James Stadium. Birge played under Larry Scott at Sebring High, showed enough to earn a spot as a long-snapper, and hopefully this isn't the last we hear of him. Leavitt, by the way, managed to use the 56-yard field goal to get a shot in on walk-on Eric Setser, who's filled in just fine since Ryan Bordeau hurt his shoulder. Said Leavitt on the record kick: "Bad snap, hold got there late." Even if that's the case, honestly, why not let them share in that moment, say, for a day? You can still dog 'em in the film room, so they don't feel like they contributed to history or anything. And for those of you wondering, Anthony Severino took the last series at quarterback because Grant Gregory is going to try for a medical redshirt, since he's been limited by thumb and shoulder injuries and hasn't played since the first month of the season. If he gets it, he and Grothe would be in the same class, with three years left after this one.
-- One more note, then I'm off to bed. The single worst thing during games at Raymond James Stadium this season was not the first-down McDonald's jingle. No, my vote goes to the horrible third-quarter time-out Medical Trivia Question on the big video screen. Whatever excitement the crowd has gets just drained as folks have to listen to some complex, inane question. I'm sure it's cowtowing to sponsors, but please, find more exciting sponsors for late-game trivia questions. And then the football trivia question Saturday actually asked which Bull rushed for 200-plus yards against Syracuse last year. So what's more insulting, that somebody there might not know the answer, or that one of the multiple-choice options was "Moise Planchard." It's basically "Hey, kid, you didn't even play last year and are suffering through rehab after a season-ending injury in Week Freaking One, but how 'bout I toss your name up as a throwaway answer? And spell your name wrong." One last video-board rant: if anybody can tell me the rhyme or reason into the Chick-Fil-A "Big East Standings" they put up on the board, please send me an e-mail. It's sure not by record, and it's not alphabetical, so I was trying to think -- is it geographically? by which nearby Chick-Fil-A sold the most carrot and raisin salad? Wish I'd taken a picture of it. Sheer randomness. Rutgers at 9-0 was the third team in the left column, two below a 7-3 team? And here's a goal for next year: Learn to spell "Cincinnati." You can't complain about other teams not knowing that South Florida isn't in South Florida when your stadium can't spell schools correctly.
Hey, congrats to volleyball for crashing the Big East tournament, where only eight teams advance. It's a huge leap from 1-13 a year ago, even if they dropped five of their last six, all by three-game sweeps, to back into the No. 8 seed in the tournament. Picked 13th, they're the early leader for most improved team on campus this school year. And men's basketball season starts in 17 hours. Keep those comments and questions coming ...