USF needing all 11 to improve on kickoff returns
TAMPA -- One area in which Skip Holtz's USF team has especially struggled is on the kickoff return unit, where the Bulls rank next-to-last out of 120 teams in I-A football, averaging just 13.6 yards per return, nearly half the 26.8 their opponents are averaging.
Opponents have kicked off 27 times against USF, but the Bulls have only one return of longer than 20 yards, even that just a 25-yarder in the opener against I-AA Chattanooga. The Bulls have opened three possessions off kickoffs inside their own 10-yard line, and the key to improving is getting all 11 players to do their assignments -- a single miss can be the tackler that breaks through to end a return early.
"Kickoff return takes 11 guys. If 11 guys are not doing everything they're supposed to do, you can't get going," returner Lindsey Lamar said. "We just have to get all 11 guys on the same page, and we'll get going."
USF had two kickoff returns for touchdowns in 2010, but took a step back last year, ranking last in the Big East with an average of 20.7 yards per return. This year's average is weighed down by two short squib kicks that had no returns, but the Bulls still have only two drives from kickoffs all season that started outside the USF 30.
USF has used three different returners, has tried different personnel for blocking, but the inconsistent execution has persisted, and Holtz said the focus is on getting that 11th player on board, knowing a single mistake can spoil solid execution by the rest of the unit, as was the case on the opening return Saturday against No. 4 Florida State.
"It looks pretty. It's exactly the way we drew it up. You knock two guys down right at the point of attack, you double-team two, you feel great. We have a true freshman out there at right tackle (coverage) who whiffs," Holtz said. "What we have to do, they've got to make one miss and go. As a football coach, you have to get it where all 11 can make their block. It's been that close on a number of them. Three big-hit knockdowns on the opening return. Those are the ones you get excited about and run the film back 100 times and say 'Great job here. Great job there.' We're that close."
USF has an extra challenge on Saturday, as Temple, at least statistically, has the nation's No. 1 kickoff return defense, holding opponents to an average of 12.2 yards, having settled for touchbacks on 14 of their 19 kickoffs.
BE LIKE MIKE: QB B.J. Daniels wears No. 7 as a nod to Michael Vick, so he's excited about the chance to play Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles' home stadium. "It'll be cool, definitely. It's something I marked down on my calendar to be able to play there," said Daniels, who liked Vick all the way back to his days at Virginia Tech. Daniels has been limited by an ankle injury but said Tuesday he'll be fine for Saturday's game.
ALREADY STARTED: Jose Fernandez had his first full practice Tuesday with the USF women's basketball team, which has high expectations on a veteran team that has eight seniors, the most Fernandez has ever had.
"I think this group is committed to having a great year, and our goal is to be playing in March in the NCAA Tournament," said Fernandez. "This is probably the deepest we've been at every position. This freshman group is really fighting and challenging the upperclassmen. Internal competition is really good."
THIS AND THAT: Volleyball continues to play well under first-year coach Courtney Draper, getting a win Sunday against Cincinnati, the defending Big East tournament champion. The Bulls (10-7, 2-2 in Big East) are starting four freshmen right now, and after two on the road this weekend, have their next four in the Corral. ... USF men's tennis hired a former local star as assistant coach in Brandon Wagner, who won an individual state title at Tampa Bay Tech and helped Georgia win an NCAA title in 2001. The 31-year-old trained with Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish at Saddlebrook and once worked as personal coach to fellow Bulldogs alum John Isner. ... Fernandez has picked up a commitment from Paige Cashin, a 6-foot-4 center from Newark, Ohio. His large senior class puts him in position to land a major nationally ranked recruiting class.