USF-UConn: Postgame thoughts
Really the first time all year the Bulls have had an easy win, one they controlled from start to finish. Saturday's 38-16 win against Connecticut exorcises one of the toughest losses of last season and gives the Bulls a real momentum going into the second half of the season. The areas that most needed a boost of confidence -- the running game, the rush defense, special teams -- got just that Saturday night. It's already way, way, way too late to still be writing, so I'm cutting myself off at 10 things ...
1. Little things you pick up watching a game a second time. If you get a chance to watch Matt Grothe's first touchdown run, watch tight end Devin Gordon's downfield blocking. Pretty strong stuff. And Gordon got a rare shot on the second-half kickoff, scooping up a short kick up the middle and rumbling 22 yards. So many walk-ons and former walk-ons making an impact all over the place on this team. Don't forget Colby Erskin -- had another catch at receiver and was lining up deep on kickoffs after Randolph hurt his hip.
2. Can't say enough about walk-on running back Ben Williams. Huge game, with 108 yards and a touchdown, the first time since the opener that anyone except Grothe has been a running threat. Great burst on the touchdown run -- he's shown enough that I think he gets the start again next week even though Ricky Ponton will be back from suspension. You could see it on the first play, when Grothe ran option and the UConn defender covered Williams, leaving Grothe an inside lane he took for a touchdown. Williams had 22 carries on Saturday night, more than UConn had as a team, and he outgained the Huskies by 48 yards, all by himself. Bonus points to anybody that knows Williams' nickname ...
3. Was thinking going into the week that S.J. Green had been a non-factor for the past month. Came into the game with four catches in five games. Had two great catches for big gains Saturday, both 30-plus yards to set up Bulls touchdowns. Early in the second half, he got wide-open down the middle, made a big catch and held on when he got leveled by a Huskies defensive back. Getting him back -- plus Jackie Chambers -- gives USF five or six legitimate downfield threats for Grothe to work with.
4. Bulls caught a huge break on that opening drive, when Terry Caulley had a 56-yard run brought back by a block-in-the-back penalty. Take those yards away, and Caulley never came close, finishing with 38 yards and just three after halftime. Connecticut was a running team coming in, down five points at the half, and they rushed for negative yardage in the second half.
5. Watching game on TiVo, you see just how much pain Grothe was in when he sprained his foot. Poor guy is absolutely writhing on the ground -- he later said it was the worst pain he'd felt, and Grothe's broken some bones in his time. Really stood out to me that receiver Marcus Edwards stood over him and held his hands while the trainers worked with him -- just a small gesture, but shows how quickly the offense has come to embrace Grothe on a personal level. We kidded with him after the game that if he didn't lose a spleen, it's hard to get sympathy in that stadium, but I think he showed a lot in terms of toughness Saturday. Wouldn't let trainers take him inside, wouldn't let himself miss more than half a series. He was still in some pain after the game, and I think USF would do well to limit his activity this week and his carries against UNC, leaning more on Williams and Ponton. Having said that, he'll probably get his first 100-yard game there.
6. I think Leavitt might honestly dislike the officials more than he does the media right now. The pass interference call on Mike Jenkins in the final two minutes of the first half -- certainly looked like an iffy call -- sent Leavitt into such a fit he literally ran in the opposite direction as the officials, so as not to say anything that might draw a flag himself. The ESPN mike picked up his "Oh, my God!" as he threw off his headset, but half the fun was watching him walk back down the sideline. Leavitt's still not over the Rutgers game -- he asked in postgame how the refs can throw that flag and not on the 2-point conversion that Amp Hill dropped. Not sure there's a good answer. Heard a good point on radio driving home, that there should be more of a push for nationalized officials in college football, rather than different crews from different conferences. There's such a perceived bias -- fairly or unfairly -- when you hear it's a Big 12 crew or things like that. ... Leavitt on the pass interference calls at halftime: "We can't even breathe on them."
7. There are nine undefeated teams in I-A football, and three of them are in the Big East. Craziness. That doesn't count Pittsburgh, which is 5-1 and could jump into the top 25 this week after a dominating win against Syracuse. Everybody expected Louisville and West Virginia to be where they are right now, but the second tier, with Pitt, Rutgers and USF, is validating the league as being more than just a two-team circuit. Even CIncy has impressed me, winning back-to-back games against Miami of Ohio and Akron -- the Big East has yet to lose a game against any non-BCS opponent. Very impressive.
8. As good a night as it was for USF special teams, with Jerome Murphy's blocked punt and a 6-for-6 night for kicker MIke Benzer, the kickoff coverage had a rough night. Didn't give up a touchdown like they did to UConn last year, but the Huskies averaged 36 yards on four returns, creating some field-position problems for the Bulls. Justin Teachey continues to punt well, averaging 40.4 yards on his five punts Saturday, with only two returned for a total of 19 yards.
9. Stats can be misleading. UConn came in leading the Big East in tackles for loss, and the stat log shows them with six tackles for loss against the Bulls. Of course, one of those "tackles for loss" was listed as being for 0 yards, and four others were for 1 yard each. So only one of those was for a loss of more than a yard. Only three times did USF back itself into needing more than 11 yards for a first down -- with 15 penalties, you'd think it would be worse than that.
10. Lots of big recruits at Ray-Jay on Saturday, including Plant quarterback Robert Marve, an Alabama commitment, but two of the biggest belong to basketball coach Robert McCullum. In for an official visit this weekend were Hillsborough Community College teammates Kenie Freeman, a 6-foot-11 center, and Ejike "Edwin" Hart, a 6-8 forward. They're both Nigerian, and had committed to Houston last month, but the Bulls are very much in consideration for a duo that would greatly help USF's frontcourt. McCullum could also get a decision this weekend from Dustin Scott, a 6-8 forward from Tallahassee Community College likely choosing between USF and Virginia Commonwealth. Speaking of recruits, UConn's assistants were all over the area Friday night, including Land O'Lakes, where they're recruiting quarterback Joe Weatherford, Drew's little brother.
Surely, you guys have questions, right? Offer 'em up on the comments, or shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. And I'm giving you guys fair warning: I get a new mugshot in the paper week after next. Trying to pre-emptively lessen the impact on circulation ...