Offense struggles ‘in the red’

South Florida?s football team challenged Memphis to the end Sept. 22. With one second left, a pass to 6-foot-5 sophomore Huey Whittaker fell incomplete in the end zone, ending the game with a 17-9 USF loss. Bulls? coach Jim Leavitt expressed his frustrations with his team?s inability to score, evident in last week?s loss against Memphis. Red-zone production seems to be a problem facing the Bulls after three games.

The Bulls are averaging 372 yards per game but are having a frustrating time scoring once they are in the red zone. In the first two games there were long passing attacks from quarterback Marquel Blackwell to receiver DeAndrew Rubin, which have led to touchdowns on four occasions. But a team can only go so far if their production inside their opponent?s 20-yard line isn?t fully doing its job.

“If you?re in the red zone you want to score,” Leavitt said. “We?ve got to score. We didn?t score an offensive touchdown. We?ve got to get our offense to score. You?re not going to win if your offense doesn?t get in the end zone.”

Of course, kicking is a big part of winning ball games too, and a success rate of 50 percent on field goal attempts isn?t helpful. Freshman kicker Santiago Gramatica is 2-4 in field goals and 7-8 in points after touchdowns. A high percentage for PATs, but the one miss would have forced the team to go for a two-point conversion if the last second pass would have been completed. Also, a missed field goal from the 21-yard-line cost the Bulls three crucial points.

“I was very disappointed in our field goal team,” Leavitt said. “We?ve got to be able to hit an extra point and we?ve got to be able to make a field goal. That changes a lot of things we would have done, obviously. You give us another four points, and it changes our whole mindset.”

A strong effort from the defense in the last three quarters enabled the Bulls to shut down the Memphis offense. The defense didn?t allow a point in the second half, and production while the Bulls were in the red zone cost them the win. In fact, the only touchdown for USF came from a fumble recovery by sophomore defensive end Shurron Pierson, forced by junior Tavares Jurineack.

“We have to try and figure out a way to get the ball in the end zone,” Leavitt said. “The biggest concern going into the North Texas game is that we need to improve as a football team. We did not improve since the Pittsburgh game. We need to improve.”

And the Bulls will need to focus on improving red-zone production if they hope to beat North Texas Saturday. The Mean Green has faced a tough schedule already with Oklahoma, Texas Tech and TCU.

A high point of red-zone production for the Bulls came in the win against Pittsburgh, where four of five touchdowns came from within the red zone, including three passes inside the 15-yard-line. However, Rubin has been the leading scorer with four touchdowns, accounting for half of South Florida?s touchdowns. Two of Rubin?s catches were more than 50-yard receptions. With his turf toe injury still bothering him and missing this week?s early practices due to illness, the deep-pass offense has lost its statistical leader.

The Bulls? main goal is to find the end zone, not relying on highlight-esque 50-yard receptions but also capitalizing on opportunities when they are facing a goal-line defense.

  • Jarrett Guthrie covers football and can be reached at