As defenses target Davis, USF needs other WRs
USF sophomore Andre Davis had a breakout game in the Bulls' comeback win at Nevada, getting 12 catches for 191 yards and two touchdowns, but in the four games since, opposing defenses have put greater emphasis on coverages designed to limit USF's top receiver.
Davis had eight catches for 84 yards in the next game, a home loss to Rutgers, but in the three games since, Davis has been effectively neutralized, totaling five catches for 45 yards in losses to Ball State, Florida State and Temple.
"It's structurally what a lot of people are doing," said Holtz, noting that Temple's defense double-covered the split end throughout Saturday's USF loss in Philadelphia. "You go into a game and a guy catches 12 balls at one position, defensively you're going to find away to schematically take that away. Then we've got to go to other options, which is why you've seen some of Terrence Mitchell's productivity increase since Andre had his big game, because of what people are doing, trying to slide to the single receiver."
Mitchell actually leads the team with 339 receiving yards, now 6 more than Davis, and Holtz said the redshirt sophomore had opportunities for much more in Saturday's loss.
"He had three drops. It's unfortunate, because he could have had six or seven catches," said Holtz, who lost his top returning receiver, Sterling Griffin, to a season-ending knee injury in the Nevada game. "We're weren't able to get that production."
Junior Derrick Hopkins has emerged as a key target, with 13 catches for 230 yards and a touchdown, and USF got solid play Saturday from senior Victor Marc, who had three catches for 41 yards, this after totaling four catches for 23 yards in the first five games. Marc was a key target in 2011, catching 33 passes; another top receiver from last season, sophomore Deonte Welch, has just four catches for 74 yards this season after catching 31 passes as a freshman. Promising freshman D'Vario Montgomery has just two catches for 36 yards and has had limited time on the field.
Something else that has played a smaller role in USF's offense has been the tight end position as a whole -- senior Evan Landi, who had 29 catches in 2010 and 2011, has just seven catches for 104 yards, and fellow senior Andreas Shields has one catch for 1 yard. Young tight ends Mike McFarland and Sean Price, who drew praise in preseason camp, have yet to catch a single pass.
"We called a couple of plays (to tight ends), trying to get the ball inside, a couple plays to Evan Landi, tried to get Sean Price in the mix. We tried to throw a flat route to him and the safety jumped him and we hit Victor Marc coming across," Holtz said. "You can't just (say) 'I'm going to throw it to him.' You have to take what the defense gives you. ... There were probably five or six plays (Saturday) where they were the primary read, but we weren't able to get them the ball, whether (by) protection or coverage."
Holtz said the younger tight ends' playing time has been limited because USF has four tight ends and rarely has more than one on the field at the same time, though he said that's something that will be evaluated during USF's bye week.
"When I say we need to assess where we are, do we need to play two tight ends and maybe not as many receivers? If we would have dropped six out of 11 catches at wide receiver all year, then you would see more two-tight-end stuff and less wide receivers. Our receivers, up until Saturday, have been pretty productive for us. We have to look at how all the pieces fit."