Unintentional youth movement a plus for Holtz, Bulls
TAMPA -- A month ago, when USF football played at Temple, the Bulls had 12 seniors in their starting lineup. On Saturday, when the Bulls ended a six-game losing streak with a win against Connecticut, the Bulls started just five seniors. The season-ending ankle injury suffered by quarterback B.J. Daniels lowers that number by another senior.
Skip Holtz's youth movement has had more to do with unfortunate injuries to key Bulls veterans, but it gives USF a head start on next season, lessening the hit they'll take from losing a deep senior class. At many positions, young players -- even true freshmen -- have played without a significant dropoff from the seniors they've replaced.
When freshman Eric Lee stepped into the starting lineup at defensive end two games ago, he had one career tackle. He had six in his first start, then added his first sack Saturday. When freshman Tashon Whitehurst stepped in at weakside linebacker Saturday, he had one career tackle, but totaled eight in Saturday's win, including a key fourth-quarter fumble recovery. Sophomore Reshard Cliett has 17 tackles in the last two games since he became a starting linebacker.
The same can be said on offense, where redshirt freshmen Thor Jozwiak and Brynjar Gudmundsson have stepped in as starting guards, and true freshman Sean Price has become a top target at tight end, with nine catches for 114 yards and a touchdown in the last three games. Junior Marcus Shaw has stepped in Lindsey Lamar at running back, and expect freshman receiver D'Vario Montgomery to play a larger role in the final three games.
There are still glaring holes to be filled for 2013 -- redshirt freshman Matt Floyd will likely get the first crack at taking over for quarterback B.J. Daniels, and the Bulls will have to replace two senior cornerbacks in Kayvon Webster and George Baker. The kicking game will have major turnover, with a reliable pair in kicker Maikon Bonani and punter Justin Brockhaus-Kann both seniors this fall.
The biggest challenge is for USF to salvage more wins from its final three games, but in shifting to a younger lineup, the Bulls are picking up experience that will be invaluable to an inexperienced team next fall.
MORE YOUTH: USF men's basketball scored eight points in the first eight minutes of Monday's exhibition win against Division II Eckerd, making it all the more impressive when freshman guard JaVontae Hawkins later fired off a personal 8-0 run in a span of 74 seconds, taking USF from a 24-22 lead to a 32-22 cushion just before halftime.
Hawkins, a 6-foot-5 freshman from Flint, Mich., hit a 3-pointer, then a two, then a three-point play on consecutive possessions, and he not only finished with 13 points, he also did it on 5-for-6 shooting in 17 minutes.
"He's got that quick first step, has a nice shot when he gets his feet set. He's going to be a nice weapon to bring into the game, like (senior Jawanza) Poland does," coach Stan Heath said. "Bringing those two guys in the game, I don't think we miss a beat, and sometimes we might get better. Both those guys are very electric players."
USF has a versatile newcomer in guard Martino Brock, who had nine assists, six points and six rebounds in 28 minutes against Eckerd. Brock showed his speed in transition, and while he'll start at shooting guard, he'll also be the primary backup to Anthony Collins at point guard.
UNCHARACTERISTIC: Senior linebacker Sam Barrington has been a leader on USF's defense, making his suspension Saturday for an arrest in Orlando -- his sixth citation for driving with a suspended license while at USF -- all the more oddly out of character. "When you look at him, he is extremely mature, the way he handles his business, the way he's led this football team, the way he's played; as a spokesperson, he's articulate," Holtz said. "With all that, we have to get some of these things cleaned up and make sure we're taking care of our business off the field."