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Veteran presence allows USF secondary to succeed

Published: Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, October 2, 2012 21:10

Despite a roller-coaster season for the USF football team, one consistency has been the play of its defensive secondary, the cornerbacks and safeties, when they are healthy.

The skill in the team’s veteran secondary positions was most evident in USF’s performance in its 30-17 loss to the Seminoles. Led by senior Kayvon Webster, who was named to the Big East honor roll for a 12-tackle performance, the Bulls limited the FSU offense to 182 rushing yards and 242 passing yards, 79 and 41 yards below their respective season averages.

Though the secondary has not been able to get its first interception of the season — one of only two teams, along with Wisconsin, still searching for an interception — defensive coordinator Chris Cosh said the Bulls impacted the defense’s ability to generate pressure.

“(EJ) Manuel was patting the ball a couple of times which says the coverage on the underneath stuff was pretty good,” he said. “Sometimes the sacks are caused by good coverage and taking away his first look.”

At first glance, a secondary that allowed 61 combined points and 515 yards through the air to Nevada and Ball State is hardly deserving of praise.

But coach Skip Holtz said injuries and shifting of personnel played a big role in the inconsistencies of the defense.

“It was frustrating because we weren’t getting the continuity that we wanted,” he said. “We didn’t have (Webster) a week ago, and so we had to play a lot of freshmen with (Ken) Durden and (Chris) Bivins. Having him back and having him and George Baker, both upperclassmen holding it down has been big.”

With seniors Webster and Baker and juniors Mark Joyce and JaQuez Jenkins starting in the secondary, along with senior Jon Lejiste coming off the bench, USF has the luxury of five upperclassmen playing
a majority of the team’s defensive plays.

Holtz said despite a leg injury for Lejiste against Florida State, the depth of the secondary is encouraging.

“Even when Lejiste got hurt, we were able to have Jenkins and Joyce at the safeties to play, and it gave us the consistency we were looking for back there,” he said. “You always make a big deal about playing with upperclassman, so to have two senior corners and two junior safeties helps our production.”

Junior defensive end Ryne Giddins said he’s seen aggression from the secondary in practices that translates well to game day — something that the Bulls will need as they re-enter conference play with five straight Big East games on the horizon.

“It’s the little things that they’ve been working on in practice,” he said. “They compete for the ball and try to prevent our guys from catching the ball. I think the work in practice is helping them in the game, as we saw last week.”

As for the interception drought, Cosh said he won’t be avoiding the topic in practices in fear of a jinx.

“I’m still going to talk about it and emphasize it,” he said. “Those guys are talking about it in practice all the time too. When we get our first one, it’s going to be a party, I can tell you that.”

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