Thursday, December 14, 2017

USF Bulls' opening victory not quite persuasive


When they hear the result in Louisville, the news probably will not send frightened fans rushing through the streets in terror.

At Rutgers, they will not sell out of night lights when they hear the final score. They will probably manage to avoid widespread panic in Connecticut. In Cincinnati, they will somehow resist cowering in the basement.

Yeah, USF was good enough to win on Saturday night.

On the other hand, the Big East did not surrender.

The Bulls beat an outmanned I-AA team from Chattanooga, 34-13. And still, there is work to be done and questions to be answered. There were too many turnovers. Too many plays where the running game was non-existent. There was the silly penalty that gave the Mocs a first down on second and 32, the kind of play that gives a head coach ulcers.

Yeah, yeah. USF is 1-0, and no matter what your expectations were from the Bulls, that's the best they were going to be after one game. That's more than you can say for Pitt (which lost to Youngstown State), or for Cal (which lost to Nevada), or for Penn State (which lost to Ohio). Even in these days of dial-a-victim scheduling, football teams occasionally trip over their designated fodder. So why quibble about a victory?

Well, there is this. When it comes to USF, we are all looking for something bigger, something grander, something that suggests a good start will finally translate to a memorable finish. Even in an opening game, most of us were looking for clues that this season would be different — would be dynamic — for USF.

"It was sloppy," USF coach Skip Holtz said. "I didn't think it was one of our better efforts. There seemed to be a lot of confusion. We've got to get some things straightened out. There are some things I'm not pleased with. Our discipline. Our organization. Our consistency on the offensive side of the ball."

Remember last week when Holtz suggested that his team wasn't playing against Chattanooga, it was playing against itself? For the most part, USF won that game, too.

The trouble with playing a lesser team is this, however. It only gives a coach partial answers. Would the pass rush have been so devastating against, say, Cincinnati? Would the receivers have run by the corners from, oh, Louisville? What can an opponent from the Southern Conference say about the competition to come in the Big East?

In the search for answers, then, how did your checklist look?

The quarterback? B.J. Daniels had some moments. He hit 10 of his first 12 passes, and he threw for three touchdowns and had a nifty run for another. But Daniels also fumbled once and threw an interception, leading to 10 points by the Mocs.

The defensive line? Yeah, that was good enough. The Bulls' line overwhelmed Chattanooga, getting six sacks and shutting down the running game (49 yards on 45 tries). Perhaps the Big East offensive lines will be better than what the Bulls faced, but there is no reason not to think this will be one of the Bulls' biggest strengths.

The linebackers? They were good, too. They will be fine. Consider Chattanooga's 2 of 15 third-down conversions. You saw about what you needed to see.

The secondary? At this point, we don't know. As a team, the Mocs hit 13 of 18 passes, but not many did much harm.

The receivers? They looked faster, deeper than a year ago. There are touchdowns to gather from these guys.

The running backs? The Bulls need more production. Period.

The offensive line? You would have liked to have seen a few big plays in the running game, wouldn't you?

The crispness? In particular, the Bulls were looking to avoid the silly mistakes that cost them games a year ago. For the most part, they did that. Still, there was that second and 32 roughing-the-passer call that was a little too reckless to endure.

The fourth quarter? Considering the way USF continually fell through the floor last season, that's the big question, isn't it? And it was never really going to be answered.

Still, USF did okay in the sealing-the-deal part of the evening. Entering the fourth quarter with a two-touchdown lead — comfortable but not decisive — the Bulls outgained their opponent 75 yards to 3.

How will that translate to play in the Big East? We'll see. There are a lot of games left to go, a lot of plays left to make, a lot of questions left to answer.

From here on out, most of them will come harder.


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