Injuries have taken playmakers, offense from Bulls
CINCINNATI -- Two games into the 2012 season, USF football not only had two wins, but also six touchdowns of 35 yards or longer, triggering optimism and excitement that big-play offense would be part of the Bulls' success.
The Bulls, of course, have lost eight of nine games since that start, with just one touchdown of 35 yards or longer in that span. One by one, injuries have taken USF's best playmakers off the field.
"The thing that's coming to light is we're not explosive right now," offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said after Friday's 27-10 loss at Cincinnati, in which USF's longest offensive play was just 21 yards. "The ability to make a chunk of yards ... is what I think was lacking. We've got to get a little more playmaking ability, a little more explosiveness out of our skill guys."
USF's longest offensive play in the month of November? That was a 32-yard catch by 266-pound fullback/tight end Jeff Hawkins. Of USF's 12 longest offensive plays this season, eight came in the Bulls' first three games, with three of the others coming in a late October shootout against Syracuse. That leaves one play for the rest of the year, a 41-yard catch against Temple by Derrick Hopkins, who's missed the last three games with a knee injury.
USF lost its top receiver from 2011, Sterling Griffin, to a season-ending injury in the opener; sophomore Chris Dunkley, who caught a 52-yard touchdown at Nevada, has been suspended since late September after an off-field arrest. Senior Lindsey Lamar had three plays of 35 yards or longer, including an 80-yard touchdown run against Syracuse, but was lost for the year in that game when he fractured his clavicle. Then senior quarterback B.J. Daniels saw his prolific career end three games early with a broken ankle in the win against UConn three weeks ago.
The latest injury came Saturday, when receiver Terrence Mitchell, who missed most of last season after suffering a concussion, went down against after another helmet-to-helmet collision and isn't expected back for Saturday's season finale.
"The lack of big plays was really evidenced," said coach Skip Holtz, frustrated for the second week in a row that his supporting players couldn't do more to help redshirt freshman Matt Floyd, the Bulls' third starting quarterback in as many games.
The last remaining big-play threat, sophomore receiver Andre Davis, has been effectively stifled by opposing defenses and an ankle injury -- after going off for 12 catches for 191 yards and two scores at Nevada, he hasn't had a 100-yard game since, nor have any other receivers. After totaling 288 yards in his first three games, he has just 234 since, matching the team high with 40 yards on five catches Friday.
In losing their best touchdown threats, the Bulls have gone from a team that scores mostly in sevens to one forced to settle for field goals. In the first seven games, USF's offense had 23 touchdowns against six field goals; in the last four games, the Bulls have five touchdowns against 11 field goals.
"That's what it comes down to, the kind of season we've had," said senior running back Demetris Murray, the team's leading rusher on Friday and for the season. "When our number is called, we haven't been able to make plays when we had to."