USF-Chattanooga: Things you might not have seen
Going back over notes from Saturday's USF opener vs. Chattanooga and have a few observations you might not have picked up on, whether you saw the game in person or watched on ESPN3.com's online video stream ...
-- Remember last year, when B.J. Daniels lined up at receiver for a second in the Syracuse game, just to throw off the defense for laughs before moving back over toe under center before the snap? You might not have seen it Saturday, but he did the same thing on the play in which he was sacked and fumbled, setting up a Mocs field goal.
Daniels initially lined up split to the left, with Marcus Shaw in the backfield for the first time, and in the time it took you to wonder "Wildcat," Daniels was back under center. This was also the first play for right tackle Quinterrius Eatmon, after Max Lang had played the first two drives, and Mocs end Davis Tull blew past Eatmon, getting to Daniels, whose fumble was recovered by tackle Derrick Lott.
-- About Daniels' interception, right before halftime: If you watch the replay, USF has two receivers left, two right, but Daniels keeps his eyes on the right side and Landi the whole time. So while it wasn't a bad pass -- Dave Weekley's broadcast says "look at the touch on that pass" -- but safety D.J. Key saw it coming and jumped the route, cutting off the pass and returning it inside the 5-yard line. Offensive coordinator Todd Fitch didn't mind the fumble as much as he thought Daniels was protecting the ball on the play, but he didn't like the interception.
"The one right before half was a critical one," Fitch said. "He went away from the side we wanted to go to, tried to make a play, tried to force something out there. That's a critical error. ... They're teachable. With our being in a lot of tight games, we can't do that to our team, and we know that. That's something we have to continue to harp on."
-- USF had a 21-3 lead with 7:27 left in the second quarter, with 194 yards of offense and 11 first downs. The offense didn't completely stop moving at that point -- Daniels still hit Sterling Griffin for a 39-yard touchdown on USF's first drive of the second half. But from that point on, USF managed 77 yards on its final five drives and its last 27 plays, the only points (and 20 yards) coming on Daniels' touchdown run.
The lack of a consistent running game stands out, even with the offensive line having three players making their first college start. The Bulls had 14 possession and none of them lasted so much as 3:00 on the clock -- the final run-out-the-clock drive was the longest at eight plays, and the longest drive by yards, the 80-yard one ending with Terrence Mitchell's score, lasted all of 1:37. So even though Chattanooga had just 151 yards and went 2-for-15 on third down, the Mocs somehow had a decided advantage in time of possession, with 34:19 to 25:41. Strange game that way.
-- We talked about the prominent use of defensive and offensive starters on special teams going in, but it was impressive how many key players were on coverage units. The opening kickoff? Consider the 10 players in on coverage: Kayvon Webster, Mark Joyce, JaQuez Jenkins and George Baker -- that's your starting secondary; Sam Barrington, DeDe Lattimore and Mike Lanaris -- the three starting linebackers, who may have taken all the linebacker snaps in the first three quarters; and Reshard Cliett, Marcus Shaw and Tre Griffin. On USF's first extra point, the outside protection on each side were four of USF's top tight ends -- Evan Landi and Jeff Hawkins on one side, Andreas Shields and Mike McFarland on the other. The two primary blockers on the punt unit, lined up in the middle in front of the punter? Starting ends Ryne Giddins and Tevin Mims.
-- So many USF debuts -- I counted 30 in all, running the gamut from three true freshmen (D'Vario Montgomery, Sean Price, Eric Lee) to 12 walk-ons, most of whom got cameos in the fourth quarter. With limited travel rosters and no cupcake home games left, that might be the only playing time many of the walk-ons see this season. I was surprised by how few substitutions were made on the defensive back seven -- only three reserve linebackers and defensive backs logged any tackles on defense -- Fidel Montgomery had two, Jon Lejiste and Mike Jeune had one.
-- One way to improve your third-down percentage? Set yourself up with SIX third-and-1s, as the Bulls did, converting all six -- five running back carries and a Derrick Hopkins reverse. So while USF went an impressive 9-for-15 on third downs, that breaks down as 7-for-7 on third and 4 or less, but 2-for-8 on third and 5 or longer -- both long conversions were actually touchdowns, in the throw to Hopkins and Daniels' run.
Chattanooga only converted two third downs -- the first was a third-and-13, with QB Terrell Robinson breaking contain for a 17-yard gain; the other was on the second-to-last play of the game, and even that was a 4-yard gain on third and 4. So USF's defense gave up essentially one third-down conversion in the entire game. That kind of situational defense will be huge against Nevada this week -- the Wolf Pack went 11-for-20 on third downs in beating Cal.
-- Wanted to check on who had the special-teams tackles in kick coverage, and USF only needed three the entire game, with Marvin Kloss getting touchbacks on all five of his kickoffs and three punts not being returned at all. But USF had two punts downed inside the 10 -- Fidel Montgomery knocked one returner out of bounds and Reshard Cliett got the other tackle, with Edsel Caprice getting his first tackle on USF's last kickoff of the night.