USF spring game: Ten next-day observations
I understand why ESPN3.com has a local blackout on its live broadcast of USF's spring game, but why a blackout on the replay? I'd like to get another look at the spring game, but there's plenty to talk about from the first viewing, which saw B.J. Daniels throw for 381 yards and five touchdowns in leading the "South Florida" team to a 49-31 victory against the "Bulls."
-- About that score: As luck would have it, I was standing right behind the uprights on the last-minute 38-yard field-goal attempt by Maikon Bonani. The kick was just barely wide right, and though the official walked forward and signaled it was no good, the scoreboard counted it as good, keeping the final score at 52-31 -- the Associated Press sent its story out with that score. Though Bonani missed that kick and Eric Schwartz went 2-for-2, including a 46-yarder, Skip Holtz said there isn't a front-runner going into fall drills in one of the team's closest positional battles.
-- You had to be impressed with Evan Landi, alternating "Bulls" possessions between quarterback and receiver. He caught a 57-yard bomb on the opening play, led his team on a 90-yard touchdown drive before halftime and looked sharp on fourth-and-goal at the 3, rolling out and hitting tight end Andrew Ketchel for a score. Holtz said he took half the second-team quarterback reps in the second half of sping drills, and he's clearly USF's top backup to Daniels. He considers himself a full-time receiver, but would be the quarterback USF turned to if anything happened to Daniels this fall.
-- Lots of prayers going out for receiver A.J. Love, who injured his right knee with five minutes left in the game and needed to be carted off the field. Love's already come back from a major knee injury, having torn the ACL in his left knee in the 2008 St. Petersburg Bowl. Receiver is a key position for the Bulls, and as dominating as Dontavia Bogan was in piling up 233 yards (!) and four touchdowns, losing Love would be a huge loss for 2010. He'll undergo an MRI exam on Monday, and should know the severity of the injury from there. If he's missing a significant part of the season, I think you'll see Holtz reach out to N.C. State receiver Donald Bowens, who graduates next month and wants to transfer to USF for his final year.
-- Though his defenses gave up a combined nine touchdowns (the first-team allowed six), coordinator Mark Snyder wasn't too concerned about his side of the ball, which wasn't able to blitz or stunt and limited in its coverage options. I think cornerback George Baker struggled, beaten on at least three of Daniels' touchdown passes, but I didn't think of him as a potential starter ahead of Kayvon Webster. I thought Mike Lanaris and DeDe Lattimore, likely second-string linebackers, made a ton of plays. Snyder said he was surprised how well USF's offensive line moved the pile on Saturday.
-- How about those redshirt freshmen, finishing their first year on campus on a high note? They seemed to be all over the field Saturday -- receiver Derrick Hopkins showed his speed on a 16-yard touchdown on a reverse, DeDe Lattimore had six tackles and returned a fumble to the 10-yard line. Newly converted fullbacks Chase Griffiths and Isaac Virgin had one and two catches, respectively, and Julius Forte had a big hit in the second half. Luke Sager, who started on the No. 2 defense, had two tackles, including one for loss.
-- Walk-ons? Mistral Raymond, lined up for a starting job at safety, said he's talked with Holtz about going on scholarship this fall and will do so if he does what he needs to academically. It's well-earned -- Raymond had 40 tackles last year, which ranks him third among returning players. ... Of the new spring additions, I thought defensive back Dennis Wideman (#29) was all over the field, with four tackles and a near-interception on the sidelines.
-- Given the rain at the start of the game, I was impressed by the crowd -- USF announced it as 6,357, and the Tampa Sports Authority, which counts actual attendance for events at Raymond James, actually had it higher at 6,405. Last year, by comparison, was officially 5,555. That's actually more than East Carolina had for Holtz's spring game last year (6,139), though the Pirates' game this year drew 7,100. UCF also had a bigger crowd at 7,288, but USF has to be pleased with steady increases in attendance five years in a row.
-- Could the Bulls be a better big-play offense even without Carlton Mitchell? I counted seven pass plays of 25 yards or more -- 57 to Landi, 77 to Bogan, 25 to Bogan, 36 to Patrick Richardson, 48 to Faron Hornes, 43 to Bogan and 32 to Love. It's probably not a good sign for the depth in the secondary, but again, the muzzle put on the defense from the start puts an asterisk on what they were able to do.
-- I asked Holtz about running back Jamar Taylor, who was held out of practice all spring to focus on academics. He said Taylor's status is "still pending," that he needs to continue to do well academically to get back in an active role with the team. The same can be said for freshman cornerback Ricardo Dixon, who has been away from the team since the first week of spring practice.
-- We should see a final spring depth chart sometime this week, and that will reflect the end of spring, but Holtz has talked a lot about summer workouts and how players can do as much work as they want toward improving themselves. Especially with new schemes on both sides of the ball, this is a key summer for players in terms of entering two-a-days with as much understanding of their positions as possible. So even though there isn't a full-squad practice for more than three months, a lot can change between now and August.