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Ten thoughts from USF's opener ...

31

August

Lots to get to today as we wrap up Tennessee-Martin and quickly move ahead to this week's game at Central Florida and all that accompanies that. Won't be able to watch a replay until this afternoon, but here are 10 quick thoughts -- OK, who am I kidding, 10 thoughts -- off USF's first game of the season ...

-- For all the talk about USF's offensive efficiency, I was as impressed by the defense, as dominating as it was vanilla. Very little blitzing, few wrinkles, only one turnover and one sack, but just a brick wall. Tennessee-Martin's longest drive of the game -- they had 14 -- was all of 22 yards. After gaining 21 yards on their first drive, the Skyhawks failed to gain so much as SEVEN on any of their next 10 possessions. UTM only ran 54 plays, and 17 of those were incompletions, so no Bulls defender had more than five tackles.

You saw lots of substitutions -- seems like USF prefers Terrell McClain at nose tackle in its nickel defense, and you saw lots of Louis Gachette subbing for both safeties. I thought Sabbath Joseph looked strong when he got into the game, and you have to like the cornerback play when the longest pass play is 11 yards.

-- The Bulls only got one kickoff and fumbled that, but you saw a lot of progress on punt returns, with five returns of longer than 20 yards. The Bulls had six of those in all of last season, in 13 games. That points to superior blocking (again, against a weaker opponent) and good instincts by Marcus Edwards. With walk-on Lucas Darr sidelined with an ankle injury, USF turned to walk-on Cameron Perkins, one of the team's fastest players, lining up in the middle on punt block, and he got a piece of the punt that Theo Wilson took 67 yards for a touchdown. Wilson's speed trucking through the middle of the field on that touchdown might be the most impressive thing from the opener. His long path to USF is a story I want to write very soon ...

-- We talked in the position breakdown about how sophomores A.J. Love and Dontavia Bogan are due for breakout seasons, and they looked like two of USF's best receivers Saturday. You saw flat-out drops on easy passes by Taurus Johnson and Jessie Hester, while Love had two great catches on USF's third drive, getting gains of 11 and 18 yards and showing how he might have a real connection with Matt Grothe. Bogan, meanwhile, caught three passes from B.J. Daniels, including back-to-back beautiful catches on USF's sideline. It might be a function of his returning from injury, but I think you saw USF hiding Carlton Mitchell a bit -- the only game he didn't catch a pass in last season was the bowl game, where he was injured on a deep pass fairly early in the game.

-- We led our notebook with the impressive balance at running back, where four different backs looked like they could have gone for 100 yards with about five more carries each. I can't overstate how unimportant the starting role is here -- Ben Williams and Jamar Taylor were in the opening backfield, and Mike Ford replaced them both on the next play. Richard Kelly was in on the third drive. Williams remains so underappreciated -- that 45-yard run on the second drive and his 12-yard touchdown showed how tough he is to tackle in traffic. Normally, you'd think a 5-foot-7 back would be good in the open field, not running through linebackers between the tackles. Taylor, too, was a good change of pace -- on one second-quarter drive, Ford ran six times in seven plays, getting between 3 and 6 yards on each run. Then Taylor came in and broke out for a 21-yard gain. I think Kelly might have gotten only two carries on purpose. Making the most of these backs will be a continuing story and a key to USF's offensive success.

-- Honestly didn't see Trent Pupello's ankle injury, but Jim Leavitt seemed very concerned about it after the game, and we'll check on its severity today. You saw USF in a ton of two-tight-end sets last night, and Pupello was in there much more than last year's No. 2, Ben Busbee. If I were making a list of players kept under wraps Saturday, I think Ced Hill would have to be high on there as well, along with Daniel Bryant ...

-- Leavitt talked about how impressed he was with how freshman B.J. Daniels bounced back from a costly fumble -- resulting in UTM's only points -- on his third play. Those back-to-back plays with Bogan were very promising -- first, a pinpoint 30-yard throw over Bogan's shoulder down the right sideline, then a Grothe-like scramble, again finding Bogan tiptoeing the sideline 20 yards downfield. A promising debut, especially when you consider that backup Grant Gregory didn't look especially sharp in his seven passes.

-- Walk-ons, everywhere! The participation chart showed more than 70 Bulls played Saturday, including some that might not make it on the field again, unless another game gets really out of hand. Shawn Cannon and Mike Padilla, two scout-team guys, got two carries each. Kenneth Luberice is a guy you'll see a lot on special teams, just like LaDre Watkins -- I wonder how many true freshman walk-ons were on a ranked team's opening kickoff this week. Chaz Hine and Joe Herzhauser got in on the second-team offensive line, and the stat book missed it, but Rhett Hamrick got out on the field for the final take-a-knee play. Hey, there are lots of walk-ons who never get that much ...

-- USF did this last season to some extent, but I was intrigued to see the Bulls have running backs shift from the backfield to receiver, if only as a decoy. Ford did it at least twice, and Taylor did it once as well -- Ford only had two catches last season and none after the first two games, but Taylor had eight catches last season and makes sense (with Williams) as a frequent target of Grothe passes.

-- The only thing you can really compare this game to is last year's opener, against I-AA Elon, but a few things stand out. Last year's opener saw USF commit nine penalties for 89 yards; on Saturday, USF had five for 25. Just two flags in the first half -- Sampson Genus offsides, and Taurus Johnson making an illegal shift that negated a 39-yard touchdown to A.J. Love. Another false start, another offsides and Ben Busbee moving forward after a fair catch on kickoff, and that's it. If you've followed USF and penalties, it's fairly remarkable against any opponent. Last year's low was 38 yards in flags, and the school record is 15.

-- "Advance the chains"? Who says "Advance the chains"? Nobody I've heard. Google the phrase "Advance the Chains" and you'll find 117 on the entire Internet. "Move the chains," meanwhile, generates 126,000 instances -- that's a thousand times as often -- many of which actually involve first downs and football. Is USF's public address announcer trying to sound quirky? Maybe British? (UPDATE: I've since learned of the sponsorship, which helps it make a little more sense). And then the trivia question asks how many years Leavitt has been at USF, and gets it wrong. Any Bulls fan worth their season ticket knows Leavitt was hired in December 1995, not 1996, as the video board explained with authority. Believe me, I make all kinds of mistakes, as you guys are good to point out, but that seemed like an easy one. More links and notes to come ...

[Last modified: Thursday, May 27, 2010 12:46pm]

    

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