USF offense had long way to go vs. Spartans
Lots to get to as we wrap up Saturday's USF loss at Michigan State, but we'll start with the offensive struggles -- six points and 155 total yards barely scratch the surface of how well Michigan State's defense controlled the game.
-- USF went 1-for-13 on third downs, a single miss short of the school record, and after two games, the Bulls are converting just 15.4 percent of their third downs, which ties them for the fourth-worst third-down success out of 123 I-A teams. The key to third-down conversions, of course, is keeping the yards you need to gain nice and low -- USF didn't have much luck with that Saturday.
The easiest third downs USF had Saturday were a pair of third-and-4s, and they didn't gain yardage on either play. So not only did USF come up short 12 times on third downs, but only once in those 12 did the Bulls get within 3 yards of the first down.
To expand on that, the down-and-distance numbers were extremely tough for the Bulls -- USF ran 61 offensive plays, and out of those 61, the Bulls snapped the ball with 5 yards or less to gain for a first down ... five times. It's an incredibly low number, and what's more, USF got first downs on just one of those five plays -- a Marcus Shaw run on second-and-2.
-- Field position? For the second week in a row, USF's offense had exactly one (1) red-zone opportunity, and that came on a drive where a special-teams takeaway gave the Bulls the ball at the Spartans 23. Take that away, and USF didn't have the ball deeper than the Michigan State 31 -- the end zone, much like that first-down marker, was far away the entire game.
On the other end of the field, USF started four drives inside its own 7-yard line -- Kenneth Durden fielded punts at his 8 and his 2 (!), and the Spartans were able to down punts at the 5 and the 1.
-- Those incompletions. USF had 20 in 26 pass attempts, and so many were a function of pressure from Michigan State. Bobby Eveld's first pass of the game -- and his last four before halfime -- were throws out of bounds as he was pressured. The official statistics chart "hurries" for such plays, and Michigan State had 11 on Saturday.
Keep in mind that USF's six completions include that well-timed trick play where Derrick Hopkins ran in motion and Eveld tapped the ball to him, like on a reverse (ESPNU's crew called it a "touch pass"). Another was a 0-yard pass to Ryan Eppes, so in terms of traditional passes to gain yards, USF had four. Deonte Welch had his hands on three balls and caught none; Andre Davis got a quick conversation with Taggart after he had a ball go off his hands on fourth-and-5 in the fourth quarter.
-- Penalties ... for as bad as USF's opener was, the Bulls committed only three penalties, and had zero flags relating to the complex pre-snap shifting the Taggart offense employs. Saturday, however, was a different story -- six of USF's eight penalties came on offense, including false starts by four different players (Price, Williams, Davis, Eppes). Price added a holding penalty that negated a 24-yard Shaw run, and the team also had a delay-of-game penalty, somehow avoiding another just before halftime when Michigan State called one at the last moment.
It makes sense that a road game with 70,000 fans would be harder for hearing a snap count than a home game with 22,000-plus in the stands. Taggart didn't want to use that as an excuse, but it stands to reason it will improve Saturday at home against Florida Atlantic.
-- What went wrong on Eveld's two blindsided turnovers? On the fumble, it sure looked like left guard Brynjar Gudmundsson thought he had help on defensive lineman Tyler Hoover -- his eyes were upfield as Hoover sacked Eveld, forcing the fumble returned 4 yards for a score.
On the second touchdown, it again came from the left side -- Michigan State had linebacker Denicos Allen sneak up to the line and blitz Eveld. Left tackle Darrell Williams pretty much held Allen and he still got past him to Eveld, who had another blitzer, linebacker Taiwan Jones, jumping in his face as he threw. The play came on a down where USF had two backs in the backfield -- Ryan Eppes broke off to the right, and Marcus Shaw didn't pick up the blitz, going past him as if expecting a pass.
-- National statistical rankings? Keep in mind there are 123 teams in I-A. USF is in the bottom 20 in pass efficiency (121st), scoring offense (112th), total offense (116th), passing offense (107th), and turnovers (t-103rd). Not to worry -- Florida Atlantic is right there with them, 118th in scoring, 113th in total, with one offensive touchdown total in two games.