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Big plays from receivers key for Bulls

Published: Monday, September 10, 2012

Updated: Monday, September 10, 2012 23:09


It’s a different offensive unit lining up for the USF football team this season — one of explosive plays, spreading the field horizontally and vertically with speed and size.

The Bulls are a far cry from the stagnant offense that scored 13 points against Syracuse in 2010, that scored 17 or fewer points in four of seven Big East games in 2011. 

According to the calculations of coach Skip Holtz, the team “only completed five plays of 40 or 50 yards or more” last season.

Senior quarterback B.J. Daniels almost matched that against Nevada when he connected for passes of 51, 52 and 56 yards.

“We have a lot of talent on the outside and the inside,” sophomore receiver Andre Davis said. “From the outside receivers to the inside receivers, everybody is working hard.” 

Davis was responsible for much of the team’s success in Reno, setting school records for receptions and yardage with 12 catches for 191 yards, while adding two receiving touchdowns to his total, earning him the Big East offensive player of the week award. 

Daniels said the cause of that came in offseason practices.

“Right now, Andre Davis is a year older, more experienced, more ready to step in; and in the first game Sterling goes down, (Davis) catches 12 balls for 190 yards,” Holtz said. “Whereas last year (Davis) was a true freshman, making mistakes, running the wrong route half the time. I think we’re much more prepared to handle the injuries, having Terrence Mitchell helps us and the addition of Chris Dunkley helps us.”

Offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said he appreciated what he saw from Davis, who was thrust into action a year ago thanks to a plethora of injuries to the team’s receiving corps.

“I think the first half of the season last year he was like a deer in the headlights, but starting from that second half, he’s been our most consistent receiver,” Fitch said. “I’ll be honest with you, he made some great, great plays, but there’s still some things to work on with him. Part of that is conditioning.”

Though the production from the sophomore Tampa native has caught the majority of USF’s national attention, the Bulls also have depth at the wide receiver spot that was not present in the team’s injury-riddled 2011 campaign.

The return of junior Terrence Mitchell from injury and the arrival of transfer Chris Dunkley, who caught the 52-yard touchdown to bring the Bulls within five points late in the fourth quarter Saturday evening, are expected to keep the offense strong — even after the team announced that a knee injury to junior wide receiver Sterling Griffin would keep him out for the entire season.

Hailing from Pahokee High School, a football hotbed widely known as “The Muck,” Dunkley arrived in Tampa after a redshirt season at the University of Florida. He broke through in his second game with the Bulls, against Nevada, grabbing a touchdown and giving the Bulls an opportunity to pull off a miraculous victory.

“The thing about that touchdown is that I went up to him after he made his first catch of the game,” Davis said. “I told him, ‘You’ve made your first catch of the day, you’re going to get your first touchdown today, too.’”

Holtz said his team’s offense, which made an emphasis on big plays throughout the offseason, is OK with trading dominant running game for bigger plays over the top.

“I think over time, they can load the box and stop our running game, but if you can get 28 points from four plays over the top, I’ll play that game,” he said. “If they’re going to load the box, try to rob Peter to pay Paul, we have got to be able to go over the top.”

As the team moves toward the more difficult part of its schedule, beginning with a Thursday night game against Rutgers to open the conference season at Raymond James Stadium, the Bulls will look to take advantage of a more explosive offense and put more wins on the board.

“Last year we had four of our receivers go down after Mitchell was hurt, and we were playing freshmen Andre Davis and Ruben Gonzalez, and Deonte Welch was a redshirt freshman coming in,” Holtz said. “I think with the depth we have now, we felt like making big plays are something that we have to do, and I think we’ve done that in the first two games.”


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