USF not so bad, Holtz decides after second look
TAMPA -- As critical as Skip Holtz was initially about mistakes made by USF on defense and special teams in Saturday's 52-24 win against UTEP, the Bulls coach said after watching game film Sunday that he might have been too hard on his players.
"It's never as bad. I think I allowed my emotions with (injured receiver Terrence Mitchell) and some of the things on special teams to affect me," Holtz said. "When you win 52-24 and you walk out with a knot in your stomach, it tells you a little bit about the expectations you're building within your own program. I thought there were some great things on defense, a lot of guys flying around. I thought our front seven really played physical, played well. Made a couple of mistakes in the first half, but I thought they came back focused and dialed in."
USF played without starting cornerback Quenton Washington, who had a lingering knee injury, and Holtz said Saturday that the senior captain had a virus that caused him to drop 18 pounds from Saturday to Tuesday last week. His top backup, sophomore JaQuez Jenkins, was limited to just a few plays after he told Holtz before the game that his injured hamstring was only at 70 percent, with the hope being that both can return healthy for the Pittsburgh game.
Holtz's biggest frustrations Saturday came from the defensive backs, but even their position coach, Rick Smith, said he liked what he saw in reviewing the game, considering they played without their most experienced player.
"You take the one play George Baker gave up (a 25-yard touchdown on fourth-and-inches), but other than that, for his (second) start, he played really good," Smith said. "He did well. I was worried about George all week, thinking he's going to hyperventilate on me. ... We get Q (Washington) back, we're going to be all right."
FEELING BETTER: Sunday brought encouraging updates on Mitchell, who was carted off the field and hospitalized after a helmet-to-helmet collision on a UTEP fake punt that left him motionless in front of the USF bench. Mitchell was released from the hospital late Saturday night, Holtz said, and suffered a concussion but no neck injury, a big relief to his teammates and coaches happy to see him Sunday morning.
"We have no idea how long that will last -- he has a pretty good headache today," Holtz said. "He came back over to the office this morning and it was nice to see his smiling face. We'll proceed with extreme caution with that, because of the severity of that."
MOVING UP: USF again moved up in the national polls, jumping two spots in the Associated Press poll to No. 16 and another three spots to No. 14 in the USA Today coaches poll. After West Virginia's loss to LSU, the Bulls are now the highest ranked team in the Big East. Despite that, the Bulls opened up as 3-point underdogs Thursday at Pittsburgh, which is 2-2 after losses to unranked Iowa and Notre Dame teams.
STARTING EARLY: Knowing he had a short week ahead, Holtz said his staff spent an hour each day last week starting a game plan for Pittsburgh, and instead of recruiting Friday, his coaches stayed in and worked on the Panthers again that day as well. Sunday's scheduled practice was rained out, but the Bulls will go for the next three days, holding a light practice even Wednesday before they fly to Pittsburgh for Thursday's game.