UCF aftermath: Lots of catching up to do ...
Back home and catching up on tons of blog posts from the weekend and lots of things to get to from Saturday's 31-24 overtime win at Central Florida. Coaches have to speed up their preparations to get a normal week in before Friday's game against No. 13 Kansas, so it's already a busy time for them ...
-- Injury updates: First, true freshman walk-on linebacker LaDre Watkins, expected to be a key contributor on special teams, is lost for the season with a torn ACL suffered in practice last week. He'll be eligible for a medical redshirt, but Watkins was a player who quickly earned the coaches' trust and will be missed. ... Cornerback Tyson Butler was in a boot after the game, but I've yet to get any answers on the specifics or severity of his injury. You might have seen running back Jamar Taylor being attended to by trainers after an injury on special teams, but he's said to be healthy. The question, then, is whether running backs Mike Ford (out) and Ben Williams (one carry) will be healthy enough to play Friday, along with tight end Trent Pupello, three key cogs to USF's running game.
-- The polls: USF dropped two spots in the AP poll to No. 19, staying at No. 18 in the coaches poll. Friday's opponent, Kansas, moved up to No. 13/11, but looks like the Bulls open as a four-point favorite at home. Only 12 of the 65 AP voters have USF ranked higher than Kansas -- there are more voters (14) who have Kansas at least 10 spots higher than the Bulls.
Back to the game, and 10 thoughts I probably should have posted much earlier ...
-- The last hit. Watched it on replay today, and defensive coordinator Wally Burnham called it a "game-winning play." Mike Greco needs 6 yards for a first down, scrambles toward the 15-yard line and gets brought down by linebackers Brouce Mompremier and Tyrone McKenzie. Watch the tape and you'll see that when Greco's knee touched down, he wasn't across the 15. One big reason? He couldn't extend the ball up above his waist, because Mompremier, catching him from behind, locked his left arm around Greco's, then McKenzie hit him hard. Not sure why UCF ran Ronnie Weaver three straight times in overtime -- he'd done nothing on the two touchdown drives and little before it. Take away one 11-yard run and he had 17 yards on his other 16 carries.
-- Just as impressive, upon review, was the preceding play on third-and-1 from the 16, where defensive tackle Terrell McClain worked through a double-team block to stop Weaver for no gain, setting up the final play. Burnham was pleased with the play of McClain, who tends to get the nod in USF's nickel packages and finished with four tackles. Most surprising stat Saturday? USF's defense, strong as it was, only had three tackles for loss, for a total of minus-4 yards. UCF, meanwhile, had 11 tackles for loss for a combined 35 yards. Opposing teams are rolling quarterbacks out and making quick throws to limit the impact of pass-rushers like George Selvie, who doesn't have a sack in two games after getting 5.5 in the first two weeks last season.
-- Big passing plays: Against Tennessee-Martin, USF had just one pass play of 25 yards or longer. Against UCF, there were five, which contributed to 24 of USF's 31 points. Five big plays against a veteran all-senior UCF secondary that came in with a ridiculous 139 career starts. First a 42-yarder to Taurus Johnson, setting up a field goal. Then a 46-yarder to Carlton Mitchell, setting up Cedric Hill's first touchdown. Then back-to-back big passes, going 37 yards to Johnson and 27 to Hill for another touchdown and a 24-10 lead. Lastly, the 25-yarder to Johnson in overtime -- just a beautiful pass to the back of the end zone over two defenders. That's 177 yards on five throws -- UCF totaled 150 yards in the air on 32 passes against a pair of corners with four career starts between them.
-- If anybody's going to miss the USF-UCF rivalry, it might be Johnson, who had two touchdowns in last year's win and had a career game Saturday, with six catches for 143 yards and another two scores. Bulls fans should be excited to see him playing with swagger -- his longest catch in all of last season was 34 yards. His 143 yards is USF's highest total since the Bulls started conference play in 2003, and his next 100-yard game will be his fourth, tying him with Hugh Smith for the most in USF history.
-- I'm always intrigued by new alignments, and I saw USF use a new wrinkle a few times Saturday: a "diamond" formation, with four receivers bunched on one side, one on the line, two staggered behind him and a fourth directly behind them. USF used it on its third play from scrimmage, and as the defense shifted to the diamond side, they ran Matt Grothe to the weakside for a 1-yard gain. The Bulls used it again on second down in overtime, but Dontavia Bogan wasn't open in the end zone as UCF had two defensive backs on the pass. The touchdown to Johnson on the next play had triplets split to the right, with Johnson in the middle as Bogan and Patrick Richardson ran shorter routes -- this was a third-and-10, which pulled one safety in, clearing space for Grothe to find Johnson for the score. USF also used its three-back backfield a few times, like on first down when the Bulls had three shots inside the UCF 5 in the first quarter but had to settle for a 20-yard field goal.
-- Want a sense of USF's depth at receiver? Granted, senior Marcus Edwards was hurt, but consider the players who caught passes on USF's final drive in regulation. First pass is a 17-yard gain to Ed Alcin, who had two career receptions at that point. On third-and-6, Grothe finds Patrick Richardson for his first career catch and a first down, and two plays later, he finds Richardson again for a 6-yard gain to the 35-yard line. Ten different Bulls caught passes against the Knights ...
-- What do long-snapper Eric Setser and walk-ons Cameron Perkins, Houston Hess have in common? They had more tackles than starting defensive end Jarriett Buie on Saturday. All the talk leading up to the season was how USF had to capitalize on the double-teams on George Selvie by getting production on the opposite side. Buie has zero tackles in two games -- give him credit for a "hurry" against UCF. The guy behind him on the depth chart, sophomore Craig Marshall, has four tackles -- including three for losses, matching Tyrone McKenzie for the team high -- in limited action. I wouldn't be surprised if you saw more of Marshall against Kansas.
-- Can't give you a number of snaps, but I seemed to see a lot more of Louis Gachette than Danny Verpaele when USF was lined up in a nickel defense Saturday. Verpaele has one tackle and one breakup in two games, while Gachette has 3.5 tackles so far. Verpaele knows USF's defense as well as anyone on the roster, but I just haven't seen as much of him as I expected in the first two games.
-- The big question this week is whether Jim Leavitt will make a change at kicker. In two games, Delbert Alvarado's only field goal is a 20-yarder, with misses from 46 and 42 yards and another attempt blocked. There are plenty of special-teams issues -- in fielding nine punts, the Bulls totaled minus-2 yards in returns, one week after piling up 226 yards against UTM. Justin Teachey, who had 15 touchbacks in 57 kickoffs last year, has just two touchbacks in 14 kickoffs this season.
-- Remember the talk of speedy R.J. Anderson joining the Bulls after ending a minor-league baseball career? With too many academic hurdles at USF, he's landed at Concord University, a Division II school in West Virginia. Former Armwood receiver Kareem Royal is on the roster there as well. And to update two of the basketball signees who failed to qualify for USF: Point guard Dwan McMillan has started classes at Miami-Dade College, where he'll play this season; center Gene Teague will attend prep school at APEX Academies, the same school he attended this past season in New Jersey.
-- Didn't get to watch, but Mike Jenkins was active for the Cowboys on Sunday in their win against Cleveland, making his debut but not recording a tackle; veteran Anthony Henry started at corner for Dallas and had three tackles. Linebacker Kawika Mitchell had a strong Bills debut, starting and getting four tackles including two for losses with one sack and a hurry. Linebacker Stephen Nicholas had a special-teams tackle in Atlanta's impressive win, and safety J.R. Reed played but did not have a tackle in the Eagles' win. Guard Frank Davis was inactive for Cincinnati in the Bengals' loss. Andre Hall gets prime-time action Monday night as the Broncos get the late game against Oakland.