Really, I can't make this stuff up
I know that at some point Saturday -- maybe in the privacy of USF's locker room, or on the charter flight home to Tampa -- Jim Leavitt got some enjoyment out of Saturday's 37-20 win at North Carolina. But he sure tries publicly to make everyone think the opposite. Here's Leavitt's opening postgame comments, verbatim. Remember, the Bulls won Saturday. I swear, they did.
"I was disappointed in a number of things. One is we dropped a punt, which was disappointing. Amarri knows he can't do that. We missed an extra point and field goal, can't do that. It really, really hurts us. I thought after we went up and scored in the third quarter, for our defense to allow them to drive all the way down and score was disappointing. And I thought the real key of the game, when Carolina was right back in it, was our offense using 10 minutes on the clock. going down and putting us in field position and Delbert Alvarado hitting it. I thought at that point we had a chance to win because it was three scores' separation. But you allow a team a little bit of energy and momentum to get going, you can't sometimes stop it. There's nothing you can do about it. So that was my biggest concern."
He would go on, given some prodding, to find a few mitigated positives in a 17-point win on the road against a BCS conference school. And I understand that Leavitt doesn't want his kids to get aware of their success, wants to keep them humble, but to watch reporters who haven't covered Leavitt take in something like that, it's just a bit jarring. Even the one positive he points out is considerably off -- that fourth-quarter drive, while absolutely a clock-killer that wrapped up the win, lasted 7:23. It's impressive enough in itself where you don't have to inflate it by a third. And up 17 points with 3:35 to play, can anyone take him seriously when he says "I thought we had a chance to win."
Leavitt's a smart man with a psychology background, so everything he does is calculated. I'm not completely sure why he's so hesitant to dole out praise on his own team. Ricky Ponton, out six games on suspension, comes back and rushes for a career-best 101 yards and two scores, showing little rust at all, and Leavitt doesn't mention him until asked. To the shock of North Carolina reporters who were writing stories on Ponton, Leavitt wouldn't make him available to the media, presumably to shield him from questions he could dismiss by simply saying he didn't want to discuss the details of his suspension.
Other Leavitt favorites:
-- "I'm frustrated with not getting more sacks." Bulls had five Saturday, after totaling 11 in their first six games. Eight different players combined for 11 tackles for losses for a total of 49 yards, on a day where USF was dropped for a total of 7 negative yards on 69 offensive plays.
-- On Ponton getting his first 100-yard rushing game: "I didn't know he had over 100. I guess that's pretty good. It's good when anybody gets 100 yards."
-- What about the two interceptions, how important were those? "Big. Yeah, you can't turn it over, just like when Matt fumbled. That was rough. The fact that our defense held them out twice from getting a touchdown was huge. That was right before the half, so we could secure some momentum."
-- When you say Ponton can be better, what kind of things can he do better? "Just like anything, he can run better. I'm sure he's going to have to block better and just improve. You think Ricky Ponton was the best in his life today? If that's it, we've got problems. He's got to learn to run harder, find holes, blocks. Lord no, he hasn't ended his career. He's got to improve, got to get better."
-- What does it do for the program to beat a BCS team outside the Big East? "I didn't really think about that as much as just wanting to play well, wanting to play better than we did last week. I didn't think about winning or losing today, I thought about playing well, playing good football. You play good enough football, those things will win games."
-- There's insulating your assistants and protecting them, and then there's just lying, or at least being honest about lying. On the trick play, easily USF's biggest offensive play and a gutsy call on fourth-and-1, up just 10 points in the third quarter: "Rod Smith. You've got to give him credit; he gets ripped on sometimes. ... It was one of those things where if it fails, everybody thinks you're dumb as can be, and if it failed, I would have said it was my call. That's the way it would have been. But it didn't fail, so it was Rod's call."
-- What positives do you take from this? "We got some guys back. RIchard Clebert played today, another d-tackle. We haven't had Richard since the third game. That helped our front. You're looking at two big d-tackles. Richard's probably 6-2, 320, probably benches 480; Josh is 6-6, 6-7, 285. You add those two guys in there and it helps you a little bit. What I'm taking from this is those guys are able to play and now get back in the flow. We're able to play with more guys because we really need in the second stretch. It's a long season. The win's always good, momentum. We wanted to play well. We played well on kickoff, on kickoff return, those kind of things I was happy with."
-- Here's some actual usable positivity, at the very end, in between the barbs, when asked if he likes where his team is after seven games: "I like this team. I said I liked this team from Day One. I said I liked this team when we barely beat McNeese. I said I liked this team when we probably should have been beaten by FIU. I like this team (after) Central Florida. It's young. Very young team. These guys haven't played much football. We've only got about four seniors who are really playing a lot. Maybe more than that, maybe about six. Mostly freshmen and sophomores mostly. A lot of freshmen and sophomores. We've got a ways to go. I think we'll be able to build this group. We'll see."
-- Here's fun. Leavitt's asked if he had decided he was done with Mike Benzer after the missed field goal, or if it was the missed extra point that made him switch to Delbert Alvarado, would he have kept Benzer in if he'd made the extra point. Simple enough, right? Again, this is verbatim: "That's kind of a silly question. I don't mind it. It's just kind of interesting because I can't go back and have that happen. I respond and react to whatever happens, and he didn't make it. So I decided to go ... I have no idea. If he would have made it, would I? In hypotheticals, I don't. I have a hard enough time. I'm not a very smart guy. I have a real hard time anyway, much less now you throw another one like that at me. Oh, Lord, I don't even know what I would have done. I don't know."
OK. That's all I've got. I'll come back Monday and talk about other things worth mentioning, like Jake Griffin making the trip and Leavitt saying he hopes Griffin could be back for Sunday's game at Cincinnati. And how Thed Watson was supermotivated because he had read "in the North Carolina papers" that some UNC players had said USF was a I-AA school, something none of the reporters in Chapel Hill seemed to remember. Hey, motivation doesn't have to be true, as long as it's effective, right?