After starting the season 2-0, the USF football team, led by a quick-strike offense that scored six touchdowns of 35 yards or more, has lost both its winning ways and its big plays.
Since the shootout in Reno when the team racked up 363 passing yards and four touchdowns from 35-yards or more, the Bulls have scored just once in nine games from that distance an 80-yard touchdown run by senior running back Lindsey Lamar against Syracuse. In that stretch, USF has gone 1-8.
Since the injury to dynamic dual-threat quarterback B.J. Daniels, the USF offense has struggled further with freshman quarterback Matt Floyd at the helm, scoring 19 points in two losses and going a school-record 10 quarters without scoring a touchdown.
The lack of big plays has been evident, coach Skip Holtz said. I thought our young quarterback showed a lot of poise and I thought he showed a lot of toughness. I was really proud of the way that he competed, but in the last two weeks we have not done a lot to help him out on the perimeter.
Without the running threats of Daniels and Lamar, who was sidelined with an injured clavicle in the loss to Syracuse, USF has a largely methodical running game, rather than a speed running game, with running backs senior Demetris Murray and junior Marcus Shaw in the backfield.
Because of the lack of big play ability in the backfield, USF has relied on gaining chunks of yardage through the air a task that has become more difficult with a freshman quarterback and injuries in the wide receiving corps.
The thing thats coming to light is were not explosive right now, offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said. The ability to make a chunk of yards … is what I think was lacking. Weve got to get a little more playmaking ability a little more explosiveness out of our skill guys to help out Matt.
The Bulls also lack the advantage of good field position on a majority of their drives, putting more pressure on the offense.
USFs average drive start in the loss to Cincinnati last weekend was its own 18-yard line 82 yards away from the end zone and began three drives inside its own 10-yard line, a statistic that is not conducive to an offense that cannot rely on big plays.
Were not making enough big plays, so we get three and four yards, but theres not any consistency, Fitch said. We havent been able to gain big chunks of yards. We have decent plays, but you cannot go down the field 90 yards without gaining chunks of yards.
With the absence of big plays down the field comes struggles in the red zone, when the field and an offenses margin for error becomes smaller.
The Bulls have scored one touchdown in their last five trips inside the opponents 20-yard line and have scored a touchdown on 56 percent of their red zone trips this season.
You dont want to take points off the board, and a field goal is still points, but its tough as an offense, Murray said. Of course, you want to go down the field, drive all the way and score a touchdown, so its bittersweet, but well take the points that we can get.
With one game left in the 2012 season and the team already out of contention for a conference title or a bowl game, the Bulls may have already pointed their focus toward the future.
But to end the season with a win over Pittsburgh on Senior Day on Saturday, the offense will need to recapture the explosiveness that characterized the teams 2-0 start.
As an offense, we have to make the plays when our number is called, Murray said. Thats what this year has come down to. We havent been doing that.