Saturday, February 24, 2018
Colleges

Kickoff return unit leaves USF Bulls in a hole

TAMPA — One area in which Skip Holtz's USF team has especially struggled is on kickoff returns, where the Bulls are next-to-last out of 120 ranked teams in Division I-A football, averaging just 13.6 yards per return.

Opponents have kicked off 27 times against USF, but the Bulls have only one return of longer than 20 yards, a 25-yarder in the opener against I-AA Chattanooga. The Bulls have opened three possessions off kickoffs inside their 10-yard line.

The key to improving is getting all 11 players to do their assignments — a single miss can allow the tackler that breaks through to end a return early.

"Kickoff return takes 11 guys. If 11 guys are not doing everything they're supposed to do, you can't get going," returner Lindsey Lamar said. "We just have to get all 11 guys on the same page, and we'll get going."

USF had two kickoff returns for touchdowns in 2010, but took a step back last year, ranking last in the Big East at 20.7 yards per return. This year's average is weighed down by short squib kicks that have no returns, but the Bulls still have only two drives from kickoffs all season that started outside the USF 30.

USF has used three returners and different personnel for blocking, but the inconsistency has persisted, and Holtz said the focus is on getting that 11th player on board.

"As a football coach, you have to get it where all 11 can make their block," he said. "It's been that close on a number of them. Three big-hit knockdowns on the opening return (vs. FSU). Those are the ones you get excited about and run the film back 100 times and say, 'Great job here. Great job there.' We're that close."

USF has an extra challenge on Saturday. Temple has the nation's No. 1-ranked kickoff return defense, holding opponents to an average of 12.2 yards with touchbacks on 14 of their 19 kickoffs.

BE LIKE MIKE: QB B.J. Daniels wears No. 7 as a nod to Michael Vick, so he's excited about playing Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles' home stadium. "It'll be cool, definitely. It's something I marked down on my calendar to be able to play there," said Daniels, who liked Vick when Vick was at Virginia Tech from 1998-2000. Daniels has been limited by an ankle injury but said Tuesday he'll be fine for Saturday's game.

ALREADY STARTED: Jose Fernandez had his first full practice with the women's basketball team, which has eight seniors, the most he has ever had, and high expectations.

"I think this group is committed to having a great year, and our goal is to be playing in March in the NCAA Tournament," Fernandez said. "This is probably the deepest we've been at every position. This freshman group is really fighting and challenging the upperclassmen. Internal competition is really good."

THIS AND THAT: Volleyball continues to play well under first-year coach Courtney Draper and won Sunday against Cincinnati, the defending Big East tournament champion. The Bulls (10-7, 2-2) are starting four freshmen, and after two on the road this weekend, have their next four in the Corral. … Men's tennis hired a former local star as assistant coach in Brandon Wagner, who won an individual state title at Tampa Bay Tech and helped Georgia win an NCAA title in 2001. The 31-year-old trained with Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish at Saddlebrook and once worked as personal coach to fellow Bulldogs alumnus John Isner. … Fernandez picked up a commitment from Paige Cashin, a 6-foot-4 center from Newark, Ohio. His large senior class puts him in position to land a nationally ranked recruiting class.

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