TAMPA — Obscured in USF's 44-17 loss to Pittsburgh on Thursday night was another breakout performance by freshman DT Elkino Watson, who had eight tackles, two for loss, including his first career sack.
Watson leads the Bulls with 6.5 tackles for loss, most in the nation for a true freshman at any position. He also has 26 total tackles, a high number for an interior lineman and fourth on USF's defense behind the three starting linebackers.
"I just go out and work hard, don't take any days for granted and keep working on what the coaches tell me to fix," Watson, a 6-foot-2, 288-pound Miami native, said last month. "I get a lot of reps with the 1s (starters), a lot with the 2s and sometimes I go with the 3s to stay in game shape. I keep going and going, so when game time comes, it's a lot easier than it is in practice."
Entering the season, USF hoped to replace the production of senior Terrell McClain, a third-round draft pick of the Panthers. At least statistically, Watson has done that, amassing more tackles and tackles for loss in his first five games than McClain (24, 4.5) did in all of last season. He's pushing starters Cory Grissom and Keith McCaskill for minutes and seems a lock to start next season after McCaskill graduates.
Watson was a signing-day steal (he chose USF over hometown Miami) and he has lived up to the high expectations from recruiting services. Coach Skip Holtz listed him Monday among the bright spots in Thursday's loss, and one of the few on defense.
"I was really pleased with Elkino Watson … as a true freshman, he has a chance to really be a special player on the defensive line," Holtz said.
THIS AND THAT: If Holtz wants to make a change on defense, it could be senior DE Patrick Hampton, who has zero tackles for loss despite starting all five games. His backups have had better success, with sophomore Julius Forte having four tackles for loss, senior Claude Davis three and junior Anthony Hill, a converted tackle, getting two. … USF women's soccer has played overtime in its past seven matches. The Bulls (5-4-4) have two wins and three ties out of those seven. There are two key dates this weekend, Friday against Connecticut and Sunday against Providence in the final home matches of the regular season. … The men's soccer team (5-2-2) leads the Big East in goals per game and has individual scoring leaders as well in junior Dom Dwyer, a London native who has seven goals in nine games, and freshman Wesley Charpie of Tarpon Springs, who has four assists entering Tuesday's game at Florida Gulf Coast. … With Bulls football playing Thursday and having a bye week ahead, the Bucs worked out on USF's practice fields Friday night in preparation for Monday's win against the Colts.
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bulls and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.