Ten quick thoughts from USF-Cincinnati
Wild night for USF football in Cincinnati, with an upside-down storyline with the Bulls offense carrying the defense to victory. Haven't seen a full replay yet, but still lots to talk about that didn't get into the game story or notebook last night. First, the video wrapup, then 10 quick thoughts. ...
-- Craziest aspect of Friday's win was just how much USF's defense had to play. Cincinnati ran 90 offensive plays, while the Bulls had just 52 -- that's a difference of 38 offensive plays. The Bulls won with offensive efficiency -- B.J. Daniels had 16 pass attempts to Zach Collaros' 53, and fewer rushing attempts than Collaros, but accounted for more touchdowns than Collaros.
Consider the drive chart -- USF's offense had just three sustained drives of more than three plays. Cincinnati had 10 drives with seven or more plays -- just one three-and-out all day. You had to figure USF's defense was tired at the half, and yet the Bearcats had the ball for 20:48 in the second half (against 9:12 for USF). The Bulls have 12 days until their next game, and they probably need it on defense after Friday.
-- Difference in the game was red-zone efficiency. If there's an area where USF's defense got the job done, it was in the red zone -- three times, they forced the Bearcats to settle for field goals, and Mistral Raymond's interception (the only turnover of the game) came in the red zone. So USF went 4-for-4 with three touchdowns in the red zone, settling once for a field goal, while Cincinnati went 4-for-6 with two touchdowns, two field goals and two trips without points (including the final drive, which had three shots from the 16.
USF set the tone for that on Cincinnati's second drive -- second and goal at the 5, and Jacquian Williams dropped Zach Collaros for a 15-yard loss. We didn't see it to mention it in the game story, but it was Williams that got to Chazz Anderson on the Bearcats' final play.
The most obvious time Cincinnati had to settle for a field goal was at the end of the first half, when Marcus Barnett had what looked like a 68-yard touchdown, but stepped out at the 4 trying to dive into the end zone. That wasn't entirely unforced, as safety Jon Lejiste, who didn't wrap up on the initial tackle, tried to chase him down -- I believe that was the play he suffered a concussion on, and he didn't return in the second half.
-- Can't say enough how much penalties worked in USF's favor, especially on the road. The Bulls had just three flags for 40 yards -- the offense's only flag came on its first play, when Jamar Bass was called for holding. No false starts or holding the rest of the game, from an offensive line that didn't allow a sack. Defensively, USF had just two pass interference calls, and the latter was a smart play -- a long pass to Armon Binns from the 36 with less than a minute to go, and Quenton Washington recognized that the flag would, at worst, put Cincinnati on its 21-yard line. It was a flagrant pass interference, and it was smart football, given that Binns has four touchdowns in these last two games against USF. Cincinnati, meanwhile, had 12 penalties for 115 yards, several negating even more offensive yards.
-- Most overlooked impact from Friday's game? Demetris Murray's blocking. On Faron Hornes' 70-yard touchdown, Murray came in as Hornes cut across the field, and without engaging a defender with his hands, he just got in the way of three players -- like a screen in basketball. He did the same thing on USF's final touchdown in the fourth quarter -- the Bulls had missed twice from the 2, the latter a fumbled snap (!) that was recovered by Kevin Gidrey. On third and goal after a time out, USF called for Daniels to roll to the right, and Murray just ran a parallel line across the goal line, cutting off defenders from getting to Daniels. Cincinnati stopped the traditional run game very well -- Murray had 12 yards on 13 carries, and Mo Plancher had just 11 yards -- but Murray's blocking was crucial on two touchdowns.
-- Jonny Sitton getting the punt return nod had nothing to do with Terrence Mitchell moving to offense. Skip Holtz decided Thursday that Mitchell had been making even the routine fair catches a little adventurous, and with a chance to remove an unnecessary risk, he went with Sitton, who had fielded punts cleanly all week. Sitton's only return -- it's not like Cincy punted much -- was a 12-yard return to the Bearcats 31, setting up USF's second touchdown.
-- Holtz talks a lot about "response to sudden change," like a defense stepping up after a turnover or a sudden goal line stand. USF's offense did this well Friday -- after Sitton's return, Daniels had the wide-open touchdown to Evan Landi. After stopping the Bearcats on fourth-and-1 late in the third, the Bulls immediately went deep to get the 70-yard touchdown to Hornes. The defense, too, got a key stop late in the first half to make the Bearcats settle for three points after the long pass to Barnett to the 4-yard line.
-- Big plays? USF had six passing plays of 30 yards or longer in the first six games, and two of those against Stony Brook, so you had four of them in the Bulls' five games against I-A competition. B.J. Daniels matched that total with four on Friday night -- the 70-yard touchdown to Hornes was the longest offensive play of the season, and it reset the mark set on the previous pass when Bogan went 64 yards. Add in the 39-yard pass to Murray to set up the last touchdown and the 31-yard touchdown to Landi, and those four plays constitute 204 of USF's 378 yards of total offense.
-- The pass defense will be an area of concern, though this is the toughest passing game the Bulls will face all season. I'm sure Mark Snyder is telling the defense about missed opportunities for turnovers -- Mistral Raymond had a pick-six in his hands, and Sam Barrington was able to force a fumble that launched straight up in the air, but the Bearcats got to it first. Now that the offense looks like it can hold its own, the defense's priority will be creating turnovers -- they have just one takeaway in three Big East games.
-- Mentioned this in the notes, but Maikon Bonani has quietly gone 6-for-7 on field goals since taking over the job from Eric Schwartz, who had gone 1-for-5 to open the season. He's also stepped up on kickoffs -- USF went into the game with just two touchbacks all season, while Cincinnati came in with a league-high 15. On Friday, he got some help from 15-yard penalties, but he had three touchbacks against the Bearcats, who had none on their seven kickoffs. The net kickoff average was identical for the two teams, and that wasn't the case going in.
-- We wrote how Cincinnati had won 13 straight Big East games going back to the 2008 season, but USF's win also was Cincinnati's first conference loss in nearly three years, since West Virginia beat them in 2007. We've written a lot about USF's road woes in the Big East -- they came in 3-12 everywhere but Syracuse since joining the league. Skip Holtz has always been a good road coach, and his record in those games is now 1-1, which makes it more reasonable to think the Bulls could get their first-ever win at Louisville next month.