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USF offense: Q&A with Greg Gregory

20

October

Leavitt Greg Auman took your USF questions for more than an hour this afternoon. Here is a full transcript of the questions and answers:

GREG: Guys, I'm here and we can get things started. Keep the questions coming and I'll get to as many as I can. I think last time we did this, we got to about 25 questions in an hour and a half or so, so I'll just try to get to as many as possible. Thanks ...

(Pictured above: Jim Leavitt prepares his team for the Syracuse game. Times photo -- Daniel Wallace.)

ROB: Is No. 24 still looking for his helmet after TJ introduced himself to him?

GREG: First thing I looked for when I started to watch the replay from Saturday's Syracuse game was Taurus Johnson's highlight-reel block on Syracuse safety Max Suter on a catch by Carlton Mitchell. Knocked his helmet off, took him off his feet -- not quite as good as the Quan Cosby hit against Oklahoma, but pretty close. As you can imagine, Taurus was proud of the hit -- great all-around game he had with two TD catches as well.

JORDAN: What is your gut feeling on Gus? I think the basketbulls season pretty much depends on him being eligible.

GREG: Good question, and one USF has been eagerly awaiting an answer on for about seven weeks. When the Bulls submitted the waiver in late August, the hope was to hear back from the NCAA in about three weeks. It's been seven, but I think the delay is an encouraging thing for the Bulls, in that it doesn't take long to dismiss something. The NCAA has asked for additional information, which means they're putting plenty of consideration into it.

I don't know that USF's season rides on having Gilchrist, but he'd obviously make the Bulls much better and give Dominique Jones a surefire scoring complement. Gilchrist has great size at 6-foot-10, and Stan Heath has said he might be the team's best perimeter shooter. Without Gilchrist at power forward, the Bulls would lean on another promising freshman, Eladio Espinosa, and a senior who has been limited by injuries, Aris Williams.

Auman_2 BRENDAN: Why won't USF use only a 2-back set with Williams as the blocker and Ford as the main back?

GREG: USF continues to rotate in five running backs and let all of them have a share of the carries, with all kinds of permutations in the backfields. Greg Gregory doesn't do a ton of two-back sets -- only think there were a handful in 70-plus offensive plays Saturday. Williams and Ford make sense as a pairing, in that Williams is arguably the best blocker of the group and Ford perhaps the most durable of the runners. Gregory is adamant that none of the backs have stood out in the first seven games, have shown themselves as that much better to warrant a 15- or 20-carry game. His critics will say a back needs a few drives in succession to get a rhythm going, but all the backs fared pretty well Saturday -- Williams really added a new dimension with two long catches, Jamar Taylor had a 25-yard run, Richard Kelly had his first touchdown and Mo Plancher had six straight carries on one drive.

Gregory will play a hot hand, so I wouldn't be surprised to see someone step into a big role in these road games, where controlling the clock with a steady ground game is huge.

MILES LAMOUREAX: What happened to the possibility of Ole Miss LB Scottie Williams enrolling at USF in January? We sure could use another LB next year.

GREG: The Bulls will lose Tyrone McKenzie and Brouce Mompremier after this season, so linebacker will be a major area for USF to address in the offseason. Kion Wilson will be back and should step in as the top linebacker, with Sabbath Joseph and Chris Robinson the most likely of the returning players to step into a starting role.

Haven't checked on Williams since we initially reported the story, so I'll have to see where things stand and what other schools he's considering. With any transfer, academics is a major hurdle to clear, making sure he's in academic standing to be accepted to USF and eligible to play next fall. I'll make some calls in the next few days and will try to get an update.

Remember, the Bulls will also have three linebackers from this year's class in Mike Lanaris, Armando Sanchez and Quavon Taylor, though I haven't heard anything about them to this point that would suggest they're in position to contend for a starting job next fall.

STEVE: Do you see Pitt losing at least two conference games?

GREG: First, understand that Pitt doesn't have to lose twice for USF to play in a BCS game. If there's a three-way tie for first place at 6-1 -- basically, if USF wins out, Pittsburgh loses once to Cincy or West Virginia, and that team wins out -- then the highest-ranked team in the BCS standings would take the Big East's BCS berth, and that'd likely be USF.

Pitt's next two league games -- at home against Rutgers and Louisville -- are probably their easiest of the five remaining. Their last three -- at Cincy, vs. West Virginia and at Connecticut in consecutive weeks -- are a tough road. I don't see them running the table, and it's hard to see more than two losses there, but two is entirely plausible.

The league's had such parity so far that you could see a two-loss champion and a logjam again -- the next loss for USF is probably the dealbreaker for a Big East title or BCS berth.

GREG: Hey, just to clarify that post about the three-way tie at 6-1. The team that beats Pittsburgh (if Cincy or West Virginia) wouldn't win out, but would win the rest of their games except for losing to USF. It's just one scenario out of a ton, but just trying to show Pitt doesn't have to lose twice for USF to play in a BCS bowl ...

K.C.: With several high profile college coaching jobs (both head coach and coordinators)in motion....any chance we lose or gain some talent? Our staff has been a bit of a carousel lately.

GREG: It's always a possibility -- each year that USF validates its success, other programs will look to Jim Leavitt's staff. I don't think anyone expected Dan McCarney to be a position coach for more than one year, so that wasn't really a cause for alarm.

Greg Gregory showed with the Richmond job that he'd like to be a head coach, and Mike Canales has enough coordinating experience that it's hard to imagine him staying in his current position too much longer. On defense, I think this is Wally Burnham's last job, so the issue with him isn't leaving for another school, but when he decides he's ready to give up a job he's loved for 40 years. USF's assistants have gotten significant raises in the past few off-seasons, but not so much so that there won't be offers for more money elsewhere. I'd be surprised if someone didn't leave the staff this off-season, but that isn't necessarily a cause for alarm.

SCOTT: Will USF every stop rotating in 9 WR's and 4 RB's and let the good ones just get into a groove and get comfortable?

GREG: Greg Gregory likes the rotation, and as long as the Bulls are scoring and piling up yards, it's hard to question. That obviously wasn't the case in the Pittsburgh game, of course, but it's not like USF got away from it with two weeks to prepare for Syracuse.

I'm curious whether the spreading of the wealth will have an impact on recruiting -- if a running back sees that a top-rated recruit only gets, say, 600 yards and seven touchdowns as the lead rusher at USF, will they give more thought to a place where, if they prove themself the best back, they can rush for 1,000 and 12 scores? It's a team concept, one that's working with the current players, but I wonder how it will sit with an elite high school player who's used to 100 yards rushing or receiving every week.

There seems to be less of an issue at receiver -- if you drop a pass or run a route wrong, they tend to not throw your way much after that. The running backs know that Gregory will stick with them if they're consistently gaining yards. There's a lot of fans clamoring for more of Mike Ford, but he actually has the lowest average per carry of the five backs USF has rotated. You can see where both sides are coming from here ...

BRENDAN: Louisville has turned into a run-based team this year. How much of a possibility is there of Hunter Cantwell opening up an air attack against our secondary like Pitt did?

GREG: I was thinking the same thing looking at Louisville's box score against Middle Tennessee State, where freshman Victor Anderson rushed for 161 yards and a score and Brock Bolen added 67 and three touchdowns.

Regular blog readers know I haven't been as impressed by Hunter Cantwell, but I think a big part of that has been that Louisville lost a ton of good receivers from last season. Their top receiver, Doug Beaumont, is a 5-9 speed guy with 33 catches but no touchdowns.

Seeing the way 6-5 Jonathan Baldwin got open in the Pitt game, I'm curious to see what Steve Kragthorpe can do with Josh Chichester, who is 6-foot-8 but only has one score.

I think USF will still go in trying to take away the run and challenging Cantwell to beat them, trusting the secondary will look more like it did Saturday than it did against Pitt.

SIMON: Any thoughts on who might be the next Big East commish? Could that hire be the biggest factor in any expansion or reallignment tlaks or is it still more of a member school decision?

GREG: Good question, and one I haven't gotten around to discussing on the blog. There was a story in the Newark Star-Ledger last week that mentioned UCF athletic director Keith Tribble, but he told the Orlando Sentinel that he hadn't talked to anyone from the Big East and was surprised he would be listed as a candidate. Tribble has a great bowl background, which would help there, but I don't know if he has the familiarity in the Big East's northeast background to be the right fit. USF president Judy Genshaft is on the committee to name a successor -- likely chosen in the next month or two, taking over next year.

Even if Tribble were to come on board, I don't think that would change the conference's views on expanding in football. Mike Tranghese has been adamant he doesn't want to add a ninth member just to relieve the unbalanced scheduling, especially if it dilutes the Big East's product and lessens its reputation. The league doesn't want to go bigger than 16 teams in basketball, which makes for an awkward football-only addition -- if they didn't like UCF when they were a Conference USA champion, I don't know that Tribble's presence would be enough to make them interested enough now -- remember UCF is something like 2-42 all-time against BCS-conference opponents. It's nothing against UCF, as much as it is that I don't see the Big East expanding in the immediate future. I haven't heard about any other candidates with ties to schools who would be considered for expansion.

BRENDAN: With our success, do you see Leavitt putting up a "fence" around the Tampa Bay area in terms of recruiting (like Miami has done)?

GREG: I'd think Leavitt would like to, but it's easier said than done. As much as USF has a Florida-focused recruiting area, they aren't incredibly superlocal in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. No offense, but I don't think the area is as talent-rich as Miami is. Look at USF's starting lineup and think about the number of kids from Hillsborough and Pinellas: Matt Huners, Jarriett Buie, Tyrone McKenzie. I think that's it -- if you were to build a fence, I suppose you could annex Lakeland and the talent there. I think USF is smarter targeting players in this state and not limiting themselves too locally.

GREG: Scott asks more about the running back rotation ...

I hear a lot from fans about backs not being able to get into a groove -- there really wasn't too much bad running in Saturday's game.

Ben Williams get a 6-yard run and 20-yard catch on the first drive ... and sits.

Mike Ford gets a 17-yard run, gets stopped twice on the next drive, which ends at the Syracuse 7 ... and sits.

Next drive, third and 3, but instead of a running back who's comfortable in the game, Mo Plancher is making his debut, and his first carry goes for a 3-yard loss. That looks like a bad choice.

Then back to Williams, after two series off. Again, he gains 8 on a run, then 35 on a pass play to set up a touchdown. Next possession, in the third quarter, he gets a 10-yard catch, splits the drive with Ford, who got grind-it-out duty to help USF get a 35-13 lead and put the game out of reach.

The rest is run-out-the-clock garbage time, and that's when you see Jamar Taylor and Richard Kelly get all their carries ...

BRENDAN: Are you gonna make time to watch the Rays games this week?

GREG: I couldn't ask for a better World Series -- I'm from Philadelphia, have been a Phils fan my whole life. I've tried to bring my son Riley up as a Rays fan, since I liked the Phils because they were the local team growing up. He's the same age -- 5-- as I was when Philly won the World Series in 1980.

So I'm genuinely torn -- I've never pulled against the Phils in my life, and have waited 28 years for another World Series. But I know how that Series in '80 is probably my first real vivid sports memory, and I'd love for my son to have the same thing. It's hard not to pull for the Rays, seeing what they've done this year. I'm going to be happy no matter who wins ...

SCOTT: All I'm saying is keep your playmakers on the field and stop being so loyal to kids. If you can't hold onto the ball or run the correct routes, stay on the bench. I don't understand how Taurus Johnson is not on the field every play?

GREG: Johnson had a great game against Syracuse, but he's been a non-factor in other games, lacking the week-to-week consistency that Mike Canales wants from the receivers. The production USF has gotten from A.J. Love, Jessie Hester, and more recently Carlton Mitchell has been steady. Marcus Edwards may have lost some ground with a fumble this week. Those guys had all the receiver catches this week -- none from Bogan, Richardson, or the other younger receivers. Remember that they lose Johnson and Edwards to graduation, so they want as much experience for the younger players as well. I haven't had much of a problem with the rotation of receivers -- it keeps me off-balance seeing which players finish with big days, so I imagine it does the same for opposing defenses.

BRENDAN: How much actual practice and preparation time will USF have between the Louisville and Cincy games? Do you think its fair that USF has two short week situations this year?

GREG: This is the second short week for the Bulls coming up next week, and I imagine Jim Leavitt will get back one of the two days he loses by practicing Sunday night, as he did before the Pittsburgh game. Then normal practices Monday and Tuesday, with a flight to Cincinnati on Wednesday. (Man, that's an expensive flight, and I'm paying like $200 to rent a car for two days.)

It's odd that both short weeks involve a road game for the first of the two games, but Cincinnati is on the road this week, so it's not like they're not flying back as well. The teams never practice on their travel day, so the Bulls will really be just one day behind where they normally are in game preparation, and even with Cincinnati.

GREG: OK, guys, I'm going to wrap things up here. Thanks for all the questions, and again, don't hesitate to shoot me an e-mail at auman@sptimes.com if there's something you didn't get to ask. Thanks again and we'll do this again in a few more weeks ...

[Last modified: Monday, October 20, 2008 1:39pm]

    

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