Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

USF Bulls defense seeks turnaround in turnovers

When it comes to allowing points, this year's USF defense has been tougher than the star-studded 2009 unit that sent five players to the NFL, and in yards allowed, the Bulls are within 4 yards a game of matching last year's defense.

The most glaring difference in this season's defense is its consistent inability to force turnovers from opponents. USF has a Big East-low four takeaways in six conference games, on pace for the second-lowest total in the Bulls' 14-year history. Fumbles, in particular, have been hard to come by, with USF recovering just three on defense all season, matching the low mark out of 120 schools in Division I-A football.

"It's something we have not done a very good job of defensively," coach Skip Holtz said this week. "As hard as we've played, as physically as we've played, as good a job as we have done of keeping the ball in front of us and playing physical against the run, that's one of the areas that really has … I'm not going to call it a disappointment, but it's an area we definitely need to improve if we're going to be a better football team."

This isn't a new sermon to USF's defense, which forced four turnovers in its opener against I-AA Stony Brook but has just nine in nine games since. Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder sees opponents turning the ball over on tape against other teams, but with uncanny consistency, they haven't made the same mistakes against the Bulls this season.

"Teams have really done a good job of protecting the ball," Snyder said. "I see guys coming with the tomahawk on some of the sacks. I see guys pulling at the ball. … I'm not going to make a big, big deal out of it. We'll work on it every day. They typically come in bunches."

If anything, USF's defense might have tried to get takeaways too much in last week's 17-10 loss to Pittsburgh. The winning touchdown came on a play where several defenders tried to pry the ball loose from Panthers running back Dion Lewis, but none brought him down on a 22-yard score. Snyder saw defensive end Ryne Giddins bearing down on Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri, who at the last split-second brought the ball down just as he was hit, avoiding a turnover.

"His sixth sense told him to protect the football," Snyder said in disbelief. "Good for them. That's great on his part. Let's not press. They'll come. They'll come."

If there's hope that USF's turnover luck could change, it's in the knowledge that today's opponent, Miami, has 29 turnovers this season, the most of any team in a BCS conference. The Hurricanes have thrown 21 interceptions, matching the most in I-A football.

Holtz knows that for whatever reason, the ball hasn't popped loose against the Bulls. Just as his defense has been unlucky, the offense has been remarkable, fumbling the ball 17 times this season but somehow recovering 13 of them. The fact that the Hurricanes lost three fumbles and threw three interceptions against Virginia Tech last week only makes Holtz fear Miami will be more careful.

"I'm sure Miami turned the ball over six times last week," he said, "and this weekend, they'll have the thing glued to the side of their chest, where they're not going to let it come out."

Few turnovers means fewer short fields and a tougher time for USF's offense, which has struggled to find the end zone, with 10 offensive touchdowns in six league games. Of those 10 touchdown drives, only two have been shorter than 48 yards.

"We can't ask our offense to drive 80-90 yards every time we get the ball and expect to score a lot of points," Holtz said.

And if turnovers are hard to come by, defensive touchdowns seem impossible. Freshman safety Mark Joyce returned an interception for a score against Stony Brook, but that has been USF's only defensive touchdown. After racking up six defensive scores in the 2007 season, the Bulls have totaled just two in the three seasons since.

The frustration with turnovers is that the Bulls see no obvious remedy; it has been a focal point in practice and game-planning, to no avail. When USF's seniors were freshmen in 2007, the Bulls had 42 takeaways, more than three times the current total. Senior cornerback Mistral Raymond had a key interception in USF's win against Cincinnati but dropped at least two other potential picks that could have been touchdowns. Awareness of the issue is not a problem for the team's top defensive players.

"Sadly, I don't have the answer to that. I wish I did," said Raymond when asked why turnovers have been scarce. "It's definitely something we put on ourselves. … We have to do a better job with that in the next couple of games here. Definitely in a game like this, turnovers will be key."

. fast facts

Yes, USF still alive in Big East

Thanks to West Virginia's win over Pitt on Friday, USF still has an outside chance to earn a share of the Big East title (though the Bulls can't earn the BCS bid because their record against the other co-champs would not be good enough). Here's what must happen for the Bulls:

• USF wins its Dec. 4 finale against Connecticut.

• On that same day, Pitt loses to Cincinnati and West Virginia loses to Rutgers.

If those happen, today's UConn-Cincinnati winner would create a five-way tie for the Big East title at 4-3 with USF, Pitt, Syracuse and West Virginia.

USF Bulls defense seeks turnaround in turnovers 11/26/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 26, 2010 10:01pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays beat Orioles, but tough stretch looms that could change their plans (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tuesday was a step back in the right direction for the Rays, who halted a season-high five-game losing streak by hanging on — and we mean that pretty much literally — for a 5-4 win over the Orioles.

    The Rays’ Tim Beckham celebrates with Mallex Smith after hitting a three-run homer in the second inning for a 5-0 lead.
  2. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Tuesday's Rays-Orioles game

    The Heater

    Rookie RHP Jake Faria had his lucky rubber duck — OG, the original one he has had since high school — with him, and the Rays had nothing to worry about as he put his rocky Wednesday outing well behind him, working into the eighth while scattering seven hits.

  3. Rays journal: Rookie Jacob Faria continues to show veteran poise

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Orioles threatened in the first inning and the second. They loaded the bases with one out in the fifth inning with the top of the order up and seemed poised for a big inning. But those opportunities produced only one run because Rays rookie RHP Jacob Faria kept his composure and got the …

    Jacob Faria goes a career-high 71/3 innings, staying composed when the Orioles threaten.
  4. Rays vs. Orioles, 12:10 p.m. Wednesday, Tropicana Field


    Today: vs. Orioles

    12:10, Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM

    Tickets: $15-$275; available at Tropicana Field box office,, surcharge of up to $5 within 5 hours of game time.

    PORT CHARLOTTE, FL - FEBRUARY 18:  Alex Cobb #53 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a portrait during the Tampa Bay Rays photo day on February 18, 2017 at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Floida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
  5. Bruce Arena blends intense demands with humor to lead U.S. soccer


    SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Bruce Arena bites his fingernails religiously, a habit he has had since age 10.

    Among some other unmentionables.

    Bruce Arena