Ten leftover thoughts from USF-Rutgers
Watching USF's 28-27 win against Rutgers on replay again, and there were a lot of things that stood out, both keys to the Bulls win and things they had to overcome to beat the Scarlet Knights.
-- USF's defense continues to play at a high level despite a complete inability to force turnovers -- just one last week and zero Wednesday against Rutgers. I thought USF's defense did a great job of clamping down after giving up a touchdown on the first drive of the third quarter, aided by two 15-yard penalties. The Bulls stopped Rutgers on their final six third-down opportunities, including stops on third-and-3 and third-and-2. On Rutgers' final six drives, the Knights totaled just 45 yards, and 22 of those came on a 22-yard Jeremy Deering run immediately after the B.J. Daniels interception. To hold Rutgers to a field goal after they got to the USF 15, and to shut them out the rest of the way, allowed USF's offense to do just enough to win a close game.
-- Amazing that USF didn't lose a fumble Wednesday night -- you saw Jake Sims land on Mo Plancher's fumble in the end zone for the winning touchdown, and another Plancher fumble was in the hands of Rutgers' David Rowe but wound up recovered by Landi on the 7-yard line, allowing USF a short field goal. Add a fumbled punt return by Terrence Mitchell in the fourth quarter that was saved by Kayvon Webster and you have three near-disasters. That doesn't count two bobbled balls in the final two minutes as USF tried to run out the clock. The fumble karma was with the Bulls on Wednesday night.
-- Saw some great adjustments throughout Wednesday's game, few better than the way Daniels rebounded from a poor start. USF's first four drives netted 18 yards on 16 plays, and Daniels opened up 1-for-6 for 4 yards, that being the touchdown to Evan Landi. From there on, Daniels went 9-for-11 for 145 yards, with five passes gaining 20 or more yards. (Three of those completions were option pitches forward to Plancher, which count as shovel passes though it's essentially a running play.)
-- Just as the defense continues to play well despite so few takeaways, USF's offense was opportunistic with its few third-down conversions on Wednesday. The Bulls went 3-for-12 on third downs -- the first two conversions were Daniels' touchdown passes to Landi and Dontavia Bogan, as key a conversion as you can make. From there, the only other conversion came as USF sought to run out the clock and Demetris Murray got 2 yards on third-and-2. Murray was slowed by an injured left knee, but he struggled to gain yards for the second straight game -- he had 11 yards on 10 carries, giving him 23 yards on 23 carries in the last two games.
-- Wondering about that second 15-yard penalty against USF's defense on Rutgers' touchdown drive to open the third quarter? Defensive tackle Terrell McClain was flagged for taking his helmet off after the play. I'm no lip-reader, but you could plainly see Holtz repeating on the sideline: "You've got to be kidding me." Here's what he had to say about it after the game:
"We had one ... Terrell McClain's helmet got pushed up," Holtz said. "He said his chin strap was kind of over his eyes. He had to take his helmet off to take his chinstrap off to put it back on. In college football, if you take your helmet off, it's a penalty. It's one of those things where you're like 'Tell me that's not going to play a decision in the outcome of this game. Fixing his chinstrap."
-- Obviously we made mention of Jacquian Williams' sack of Chas Dodd on fourth down late in the fourth quarter in USF territory, but the previous play is also worth noting. Freshman defensive end Julius Forte, who had just three tackles all season, chased down Dodd from behind, holding him to a 5-yard gain on third and 8. Forte had rushed the passer, then came back off a block and made the play to keep Rutgers from a key conversion that would have put them close to range for a go-ahead field goal.
-- USF's botched coverage on Rutgers' punt-return touchdown -- Holtz said "we gave up the craziest punt return I've ever seen in all my days of coaching" makes a little more sense if you watch the previous punt, when six Bulls were circled around Mason Robinson on a fair catch. Justin Brockhaus-Kann's kick was high enough that USF's coverage was literally past the advancing Robinson -- Kayvon Webster and Donte Spires behind him on his right, Curtis Weatherspoon and Mistral Raymond to his left, with Armando Sanchez and even long-snapper Mike Walsh directly in front of him. All of them seemed to anticipate a fair catch, such that the only player Robinson had to make miss was linebacker Sabbath Joseph, who dived and missed. Brockhaus-Kann's numbers continue to be down after a promising start -- he averaged 33.2 yards on six attempts with a long of 40, though he deserves credit for three kicks inside the 20.
-- USF had some costly penalties Wednesday, but on the whole, the Bulls are remarkably improved when it comes to flags. USF is on pace to finish with 70 penalties for 549 yards this season -- nearly 200 yards less than any other season in USF history. Keep in mind, USF had a bad streak of 11 consecutive seasons with at least 100 penalties and at least 800 penalty yards, snapped last season when they dropped to 91 flags for 749 yards.
-- I had to laugh when USF athletic director Doug Woolard was interviewed by ESPN2's Rob Stone on the sidelines -- Stone opened with a specific question about the chance to get win No. 100 and what it would mean for USF's football program. Woolard technically answered him (in two seconds) and then redirected to talking points about USF's size as a school.
"Rob, it means a great deal," Woolard said. "We're in a fortunate situation. We have 47,000 students. We have the 9th-largest university in America. You have 3.5-4 million that live in the greater Tampa area, and have the 12th largest media market in the country."
-- Crazy, but USF, at 2-2 in Big East play, has matched its best conference mark after four games since opening their first Big East season at 3-1 in 2005. The question now is how will they finish: in their final three conference games, the Bulls have gone 1-5 in the past two seasons; in 2006-07, the Bulls went 5-1 in those games. I think two wins in the final three would have to be seen as a solid finish.