With work, USF can win Big East

By Michael Manganello, COMMENTARY
On September 13, 2011

There's a chance that this year's USF football team can be the most successful in school history, but there is still work to be done.

It's nice to beat the Fighting Irish in South Bend, Ind., as double-digit underdogs and to put on an offensive clinic against Ball State, but if the Bulls become complacent after a 2-0 start, there will be losses down the road.

First and foremost, USF must improve its red-zone efficiency and turn field goals into touchdowns.

Against Notre Dame, the Bulls went 3-for-3 in the red-zone, but struggled to punch the ball into the end zone, kicking two field goals. In the first quarter, USF was set up with a 1st-and-goal from the Notre Dame 5-yard line, but settled for a field goal.

The script was similar against Ball State, with the Bulls needing to kick three field goals from inside the Cardinals' 20-yard line. Getting there is nice, but the Bulls need to start scoring seven points instead of three.

"Offensively, we drove the field a number of times, we just weren't able to push it into the end zone," coach Skip Holtz said. "If you look at the first half (against Ball State), the only negative, really, that I would look at would be our red zone. We kicked too many field goals."

Once efficiency is improved, the Bulls' offense can post points in a hurry thanks to the improved play of B.J. Daniels, now in his third year as USF's starting quarterback. In previous seasons, Daniels has shown potential, but he's also shown carelessness with the ball. In the last two seasons, Daniels has thrown 25 touchdown passes with 22 interceptions.

This year, he's taken better care of the ball, avoiding turning the ball over against Notre Dame and throwing one interception on a miscommunication with wide receiver Sterling Griffin against Ball State.

"He is seeing the field, he is doing some great things," Holtz said. "The one interception he threw, I hate it because I've been getting all over him about giving the wide receivers a chance and not throwing it over everybody's head. He finally gave a receiver a chance and the receiver stopped on him."

Daniels said he credits his improved play to familiarity with offensive coordinator Todd Fitch's system and a lighthearted relationship with Holtz.

"Being in the second year in the offense really makes a difference," he said. "I'm just out there trying to have fun. I'm joking around and messing with (Holtz) and picking at him while the game's going on."

Defensively, the biggest difference between this year's squad and lasts has been the ability to create fumbles. Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder's group recovered only five fumbles a year ago, motivating them to work hard to create more. Early indications suggest that work paid off, with the Bulls recovering four on defense already and a fifth on special teams.

"We're doing good, but we're not done," USF weak-side linebacker DeDe Lattimore said. "We still can get better in (causing) turnovers. Basically, we've just been working on the small things as a team and things have been going our way."

If USF continues to improve week to week and show the focus that it did in avoiding a letdown against Ball State following an emotional week, it is capable of lifting a conference championship trophy for the first time in school history.

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