Saturday, February 17, 2018
Colleges

Skip Holtz has South Florida Bulls heading in wrong direction

His last name may have helped him land the job. But it's not going to do a thing to help him keep it if he can't turn things around soon. When it comes to college football and job security, it doesn't matter if your last name is Smith, Johnson or Jones.

Or Holtz.

Skip Holtz arrived as USF's football coach in 2010 with lots of energy, loads of hope and plenty of pep in his pep talks. He replaced Jim Leavitt and was expected to take USF to the next level. He was to take the Bulls from that nice little eight-win, second-tier-bowl, also-receiving-votes program to one that could win a Big East title, play on New Year's Day and, dare we say, finish in the top 10 or 15 every now and again.

So far, it hasn't worked out that way. Here are a few random thoughts about what's going on with the Bulls under Holtz.

The numbers add up … to nothing good

Here are some numbers tougher to chew on than the gristle from a $2 steak. The Bulls have won only three of their past 12 games. Can you imagine the uproar if this was Tuscaloosa or Tallahassee, College Station or State College? Actually, name any place where going 3-9 over a 12-game span is acceptable.

Heck, Holtz is only 15-14 since taking over USF, including 4-11 in the Big East.

And this is the statistic that alumni and season-ticket holders might use to light the coals under any coach's seat: Under Holtz, the Bulls are 1-8 in home games against opponents from BCS conferences.

Even Holtz's best win at USF — a season-opening upset at Notre Dame in 2011 — came against a team that ultimately lost four more times.

This season isn't going well …

Already this season, the Bulls have lost two games you just can't lose if you're going to be a good program. The first was a Thursday night, nationally televised home loss to Rutgers in USF's Big East opener — the type of big-stage game USF always seems to lose. Last week, the Bulls were awful on defense in a loss at Ball State, which also amplified USF's failure to pull out close games — 1-6 in their past seven decided by a touchdown or less. The lone win was this month at Nevada on a last-minute pass that was as close to being a Hail Mary as you can get without calling it a Hail Mary. Otherwise, the Bulls would be 1-3.

… And it's likely to get worse

Next up is Florida State, which dismantled the No. 10 team in the country Saturday. If the No. 4 Seminoles could hang 49 points on then-No. 10 Clemson, imagine what they might do to a Bulls defense that gave up 31 points and 413 yards to Ball State.

After that, USF is off to Temple, which will be fired up for its first Big East game since 2004. Then there's another tough trip at Louisville to face a team predicted to win the Big East. Could this two-game losing streak reach five? Could a team expected to win as many as nine games and compete for a Big East title struggle to even reach .500?

Where's the problem?

The offense can be hit-and-miss, like in USF's 23-13 loss to Rutgers — when the Bulls went 4-for-12 on third downs, rushed for fewer than 100 yards and quarterback B.J. Daniels threw three interceptions.

But the real mess is on defense. In the past two games (both losses), the Bulls have allowed 316 yards on the ground and opponents have converted 16 of 32 third downs. The defense was on the field for 71 plays last week and did not record a single tackle for a loss. The Bulls defensive line has combined for only 3½ tackles for loss all season. USF is only one of three Division I-A teams that doesn't have an interception.

On top of that, discipline has been an issue. Last week, USF racked up more than 100 yards in penalties for the second time this season.

Might it get better?

The best way to get better? Get better football players.

When Holtz arrived, he said he was going to put up a fence around the Tampa Bay area and heavily recruit the top 100 high schools in these parts. While he has sat in plenty of living rooms in the 727 and 813 area codes and made plenty of offers, Holtz hasn't made a huge dent locally.

He has landed some stars in other parts of the state but has not attracted the truly elite local prep players. He has had to settle for the next level of players, those rated just outside of the top 20 or 25, and that includes the half-dozen (so far) expected to sign with USF for next season. Receivers Andre Davis (Jefferson) and Terrence Mitchell (Hillsborough) have made impacts, but that's hardly enough in an area with so much talent.

The skinny on Skip

The Bulls can't win conference games. They can't win at home against decent opponents. They commit too many penalties. They can't win close games consistently. They have issues recruiting locally.

Isn't all of that on the head coach?

Holtz seems like a good guy, and a coach deserves at least four seasons to build a team full of his own recruits before we start looking for the buyout clause in his contract.

So no one is calling for his head (though I'm not sure how he got a contract extension over the summer either). He still has time to figure this thing out and get USF headed in the right direction.

But he needs to start soon. Right now would be nice.

Tom Jones can be reached at [email protected]ay.com or (727) 893-8544 and can be heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620.

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