Morning after: Elon thoughts
Lots to get to from Saturday's opener, which saw some outstanding individual performances -- three touchdowns in Mike Ford's college debut, a record-setting night by defensive end George Selvie and enough penalties and mistakes to leave Jim Leavitt plenty frustrated.
Three things made the game a lot closer than it needed to be: USF's special-teams mistakes, Elon's quick-hit passing game and untimely penalties by the Bulls.
-- Special-teams problems hit home with Leavitt because he spends a lot of time with that unit. You have punter Justin Teachey's dropped snap -- remember Delbert Alvarado and Ilia Petrov lost the punting job last year solely because they couldn't snaps. You have Amarri Jackson muffing a punt return and managing 19 yards on his other four returns -- when Leavitt says he's changing personnel, I think that's the kind of thing he's talking about. You have a roughing-the-punter penalty that kept alive Elon's only touchdown drive in the final minutes, then you have the Bulls allowing Elon to recover an onsides kick -- with 12 USF players on the field -- late in the game. Leavitt said he had four players on his "hands team" out with injuries, but these kind of mistakes mean even more special-teams work in practice this week.
-- Penalties. At halftime, USF had one flag for five yards, a promising show of restraint for a team that averaged 70 yards in flags last season. The Bulls made up for it in the second half, with eight flags for 84 yards. False starts on a shuffled offensive line can be expected. But Elon's second field goal came after a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a third-down stop. Elon's only touchdown drive had 30 yards in penalties, with a roughing-the-passer flag, then the roughing-the-kicker penalty.
-- You have to give credit to Elon's Scott Riddle, who played with poise as an 18-year-old true freshman making his college debut. Threw 54 passes, set a school record with 33 completions. USF knew receivers Terrell Hudgins and Michael Mayers were Elon's best players, and they still managed to combine for 22 catches for 174 yards, most on little nickel-and-dime passing. Games like that will turn into wins against I-AA competition.
-- Can't say enough how much USF worked not to show Auburn much on either side of the ball. I saw very little blitzing, very little of the offensive playbook. Matt Grothe said "we didn't throw a lot at them," which is a smart thing -- Auburn needed late scores to avoid losing to Kansas State on Saturday. If you blinked, you missed a new three-back alignment, with Ben Williams flanked by star freshmen Mike Ford and Jamar Taylor. USF brought it in twice on short yardage and got big plays by Ford both times. To see Ford with seven touches, Aston Samuels with three, Jamar Taylor with four, that tells me they wanted to get the kids' feet wet without showing anybody their hand.
-- Didn't get this into the game story, but thought both new outside linebackers made solid first starts at USF. We knew Tyrone McKenzie was a tackling machine, so to see him get 9.5 tackles is only so surprising. Brouce Mompremier had eight tackles, which is three more than he's ever had in a season. As close as he and Donte Spires were in camp, I only saw Spires on the kickoff team. Senior Ben Moffitt had only one tackle, and while he left early, it looked to only be cramps.
-- As good as George Selvie was last year, he had 5.5 sacks all season. So to see him get four Saturday, tying Shurron Pierson's school record, and two more tackles for loss, it's clear he's going to be a game-changing presence on defense. I don't think it's a matter of if Selvie can play at the next level, but a matter of when -- if he continues to progress as he had, it's hard to see him making it to his senior year. Speaking of NFL futures, I thought Mike Jenkins had a solid game, breaking up four passes.
-- Again, this could be USF hiding things from Auburn, but only three true freshmen played Saturday in Ford and Taylor, along with receiver Dontavia Bogan. Not many more even dressed -- fullback Richard Kelly and defensive tackle Terrell McClain were in uniform. That says more about the returning depth than anything else.
-- Four more former Bulls were among the NFL final cuts Saturday, with Ean Randolph (Chiefs), J.R. Reed (Giants) and Thed Watson (Panthers) getting released and Frank Davis put on injured reserve by the Lions. Randolph is almost assured of at least a practice-squad job, and Reed could be just waiting for an injury to open up a need from another team.
Thoughts? Concerns? After the Elon game, how do you feel about Auburn? What's the biggest area in need of quick improvement? Send me your questions, and I'll fire back as best I can ...