Morning after: Still no running game
KANSAS CITY -- Apologies, first, to those loyal readers expecting some rambling entry around 1:30 a.m. this morning. With a 5:30 a.m. wake-up call to make an early flight, I opted for part of a fifth hour of sleep, putting the blog on hold until now, as I wait for my plane at Gate 31.
Airport security fun: You can buy bottled drinks inside the secured areas of the airport, but you must surrender your plastic bottle cap upon purchase. The natural dangers of gels and liquids also have my checking a bag now, but no luggage was lost this weekend (yet) so I'm not actually complaining.
Onto that game Saturday night, USF's first loss of the season, one that exposes a lot more warts and freckles than those last-minute comebacks can cover up. Coupla things stand out:
-- The loss makes it all the more glaring how much the Bulls miss Ricky Ponton, who was serving the fourth game of what should be a six-game suspension. His absence, compounded by Moise Plancher's season-ending knee injury in the first week, have left the Bulls with no contributions from running backs. USF will run three or four reverses, will call for quarterback Matt Grothe to run the ball far more than he should -- 18 carries against Kansas. Defenses aren't respecting USF's run threat, which makes it all the tougher for Grothe to get the passing offense going.
The only real impact USF's running backs made -- eight carries, 15 yards, zero catches -- came in the fourth quarter, when Walt Smith, making just his second carry, lost a fumble. So out of 63 offensive plays, 52 involved Grothe running or passing, far too many to consider an offense unpredictable.
-- Monster game by Stephen Nicholas, with 15 tackles, including 10 solos and two for losses. Guy was everywhere, and on a night where I counted quite a few missed tackles, can't remember one from Nicholas. KU coach Mark Mangino said USF's linebackers will be playing on Sundays, and just as Kawika Mitchell made a proud return to the Bulls sidelines Saturday, I think you'll see Nicholas in the same position four or five years from now.
-- Had gotten a tip late Friday night that USF would be trying that crazy rugby-style punting to the side deal, but couldn't have expected it to work as well as it did. The Bulls were dead last out of 119 I-A teams in net punting entering the game, but they played about as well on punts as you can expect. Teachey, a sophomore walk-on, had four punts, taking two steps to his right on each and getting some amazing rolls and bounces -- when the night was done, USF averaged more than 15 yards per punt better on their net punting than KU did. Even Matt Grothe stepped up -- again, can the kid get off his tail and play some safety, perhaps? -- and had a nice pooch kick that went out of bounds at the Kansas 5. That USF wasn't able to convert that first-half field position victory into any points is an indication of how poorly everything else was going for much of Saturday.
-- For the last two weeks, I've felt like the major difference in each game has been that USF hasn't had a running back, where UCF's Jason Peters (98 yards) and KU's Jon Cornish (105) have been big parts of their team's offensive success. That's only going to get worse for the Bulls on Friday, when the Bulls face a two-pronged Rutgers running attack with Ray Rice and Brian Leonard. If they want a better result, the Bulls' defense better be able to stop them better than in last year's game, where a dominating start was enough for USF to ride to a road victory.
OK. The "B" line in the Southwest boarding queue is getting a bit long, so I'm going to cut this off a little early. I'll get back with more tonight. ...