TAMPA — If there's one area the Bulls offense must improve most entering Big East play, it might be on third down, where USF has converted 28.9 percent of its opportunities, last in the Big East and 114th out of 120 Division I-A schools.
Offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said he believes he has found the right combination of players for third downs and just wants them to have confidence they can pick up yards as they do on first or second down.
"I think there's a sense of urgency on third down. All you have to do is move the chain," Fitch said. "Sometimes, you think there has to be something special. It's not real hard to figure out. If you need 4, get 4. If you need 7, get 7. We just want to keep the drive alive. We have to do a better job of coaching that."
The Bulls' 38 third-down plays is the lowest total in I-A, somewhat a function of USF's offense moving well on first and second downs. Facing mostly lesser opponents so far, the Bulls have eight touchdown drives in which they never faced a third down.
Still, QB B.J. Daniels hasn't been sharp on third downs — 6-for-19 for 57 yards, with just four conversions. The Bulls have thrown passes to 12 players on third downs, but only one has converted more than one — freshman walk-on Stephen Bravo-Brown, who has two.
USF is relatively sharp on third and 3 or fewer, converting 8 of 12, and naturally it's harder to convert longer third downs. But USF is converting just 11.5 percent on third and 4 or longer — 3-for-26 — which points to inexperience at receiver.
Third downs were key in last year's Syracuse game; one reason the Orange stayed closer than in past years was that it converted 9-of-15 third downs and USF went 4-for-12. In 2010 Syracuse has converted 42.2 percent No. 2 in the Big East.
THIS AND THAT: Women's basketball, which opened practice Monday and opens Nov. 12 against Jacksonville, has lost two forwards. Sophomore Tahira Johnson will miss the season after ACL surgery, and junior Josette Campbell, a junior college signee from London, did not qualify academically. … Women's soccer player Chelsea Klotz, second in the Big East with nine goals, could miss this weekend's matches at Providence and Connecticut with plantar fasciitis in her left foot. Klotz said she hopes to play. The Bulls (7-3-2) are tied for third in their division with six regular-season matches to play.
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.