FI-whew: Bulls escape with 21-20 win
OK. It's even later than normal for my late-night ramblings and I'm, as Jim Leavitt said in his postgame, "drained." He wasn't talking about me, but himself, well, you understand.
For the second week in a row, what a wild game, with so many Bulls mistakes. Would have been a huge, huge win for FIU, resetting the whole dynamic of that second tier of the state's college football. Instead, it's a second wake-up call for USF, like they'd hit the snooze for a week after McNeese gave them, comparably, a pretty tame scare.
To keep this brief -- ha! -- I'm going Peter King style, or Letterman style, or Moses style, or anyone else that has patented the popular "list of 10" formatting through the eons of time.
1. I didn't get it into my story, but USF's offensive line did not give up a sack, for the second game in a row. The nation's leading sacker, Antwan Barnes, had all of two tackles. All this blocking, and for the second game in a row, the Bulls had replaced two starters before the opening quarter was over. Redshirt freshman Danny Tolley, making his first start at right tackle, was replaced by Marc Die, coming back from a knee injury, and left tackle Jared Carnes, arguably the Bulls' least effective lineman thus far, was replaced by guard Matt Huners, who seemed to fare well. Again, zero sacks in two games, with more than 50 passes between the two games. With no Thed Watson this week, no less. Impressive young group of linemen.
2. From the Cruel Irony Dept., Saturday's game program featured quarterback Pat Julmiste on the cover. Tough night for Pat, who took the field only to lead three fellow seniors to the coin toss -- which USF won, I should point out. It's the first time since 2004 that Julmiste hasn't played in a game, but it also said a lot that Jim Leavitt stuck with Matt Grothe through two interceptions, at a time where he could have had a very short fuse with his passers.
3. More stuff I didn't get into my story: George Selvie had FIVE tackles for loss, including two sacks. In his second college game. Patrick St. Louis said something really smart after the game, talking about how well the young d-line did by simply not going offsides. Can't say much about limited penalties after Saturday, but the defensive line did well in that regard. Selvie had nine tackles, one more than Ben Moffitt, and any time somebody outtackles Moffitt, they're playing well.
4. Mike Benzer is in trouble as USF's kicker. He's now 0-for-5 on field goals as a Bull, having pulled a 35-yarder wide Saturday after bouncing one off the upright last week. Kyle Bronson, off at North Texas now, can't be too happy, knowing he'd probably on scholarship and a starter had he been a little more patient at USF. When you think about changes Leavitt might make, you just wonder who he'll turn to -- does he look to Delbert Alvarado, who's already punting? Justin Teachey, who fared much better on kickoffs, with some key touchbacks? Could he go with new walk-on Anthony Leandri, the newest (and perhaps shortest) member of the team? I'd think of this week as an open tryout, which is tough for Benzer, one of only a few Bulls making a homecoming in Orlando next week.
5. After two games, I feel better about the two stories I wrote to advance the McNeese game. First, about the huge number of walk-ons -- already you've seen Walt Smith and Ean Randolph score two touchdowns each, Jared Carnes has two starts, Devin Gordon a 24-yard catch. The other story was about the "Triangle Read" and how smart USF's linebackers are. Listen to Patrick St. Louis, who was in perfect position to stop FIU quarterback Josh Padrick on fourth-and-1 on the USF 20 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
"I had a feeling where he was going to go, so I took a chance. I was seeing the offense was in three-point stance, instead of true four-point stance, to go right over the top. When I saw that, I thought he was coming right into my B-gap. I'd stopped him on third down ,but I didn't bring my arms. I said, "Next time he comes my way, I"m going to make sure the first thing I do when I hit him is wrap him up. I brought him down and I wasn't getting up until they told me he didn't make it."
6. And that FIU fumble with three minutes to play? Julian Reams bounces into Richard Clebert, has the luck to get away and run into Ben Moffitt, who strips the ball loose, bouncing right into Clebert's hands. Matt Grothe called it "a miracle." Again, I turn to St. Louis: "I was late on my read. He spun off the first contact, then everybody gang-tackled him and Ben stripped the ball. Before I know it, I see Clebert trying to run with the ball."
7. I think FIU could end up a lot like UCF last year, where the loss to USF sparked a real turnaround. FIU has only beaten three I-A teams in its five-year existence, and none of those three are close to USF. Every game they play this season is against I-A teams, so it won't be easy, but it's a talented team. QB Josh Padrick hit 16 of his first 20 passes, though he was held to 4-for-13 down the stretch. And receiver Chander Williams could play in the Big East if he wanted to ... And just for a random update: Carlton Hill had two touchdown receptions in a blowout win by Pearl River Community College in Mississippi on Thursday.
8. On a night where USF barely had any running game aside from Matt Grothe scrambling for 82 yards, I was impressed by the big run Ben Williams came up with on fourth-and-14 with 38 seconds remaining. A 20-yard gain, putting the game away. Running backs coach Carl Franks walked off the field with his arm around Williams, who earned a college start as a sophomore walk-on, impressive even if the top two backs are out ahead of you. It said a lot to me that USF didn't dress freshman Aston Samuels on Saturday -- they had enough confidence in Williams, Walt Smith and Keeley Dorsey to go to battle with those three. They combined for 20 yards on their first 15 carries, but Williams came up big on that last run.
9. How few of the seniors on this team are really contributing? Let's add it up. Obviously Stephen Nicholas and Patrick St. Louis are leaders on the defense, Ean Randolph has been playing huge, and safety Jeremy Burnett had another huge helmet-knocking-off hit. Aside from that? Walt Smith had seven carries for minus-8 yards. Pat Julmiste didn't play, Will Bleakley barely played and S.J. Green didn't have a catch. What started as a small senior class -- full of good leaders -- is growing smaller.
10. Was impressed by the crowd of 27,114 on Saturday, especially when you consider FIU, as part of its contract, got 500 complimentary tickets, and did not request any beyond that. Among those in attendance? Famed FSU cowgirl Jenn Sterger, who has a mailbag feature she writes for SI.com as part of the "SI on Campus" coverage online. OK, plenty to write this week. Now, I have to sleep and pile up rest for the silliness that should be USF-UCF week. Keep those questions and comments coming to firstname.lastname@example.org.