Sometimes, quarterback Marquel Blackwell must feel like Homer Simpson in a Dunkin’ Donuts at 6 a.m.So many tasty choices.
“(Blackwell) has a lot of options,” receivers coach Tom Pajic said. “One week one guy gets it done, then the next week’s its someone else’s turn and they all keep pushing the other receivers.”
Before the season started, it seemed as if DeAndrew Rubin would be the so-called go-to-guy. Rubin hauled in a pair of 50-yard touchdown strikes in the opener at Northern Illinois. His encore came in the Bulls program-defining victory at Pittsburgh when the junior caught 11 passes for 144 yards and two more touchdowns.
However, when turf toe limited Rubin’s effectiveness, it was expected one of the other Bull receivers would assume the role of main target.
But it wasn’t just one of them – it was all of them.”We have been pretty consistent,” Rubin said. “And we’ve had guys step up when we’ve had injuries.”
In the six games following Rubin’s injury at Pitt, five different Bulls have led or tied for the team lead in receptions, with Huey Whittaker topping the list in three of those. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound sophomore leads the Bulls in receptions (41) and yards (411), creates size mismatches in the secondary and has soft hands. According to Whittaker, too much can never be enough.
“Anybody in a position that gets the ball, loves to get the ball a lot,” Whittaker said. “Receivers, this year, have been the primary players. I always like when they call my number.”
But the burden of replacing Rubin’s production has not fallen entirely on the shoulders of Whittaker.
“There’s plenty of balls in this offense (to go around),” receiver Chris Iskra said. “Any player can get a pass at any time.”
Iskra is second on the Bulls in catches with 23 and has hauled in at least five balls in four consecutive games. Iskra’s breakout game came in last week’s win against Liberty when the 6-foot-1, 185-pound sophomore paced the Bulls with six receptions for 143 yards, including touchdowns strikes from 29 and 37 yards out. And just like the variety contained in a baker’s dozen of Homer’s favorites, Blackwell has more selections to choose from than just glazed and jelly filled.
“After Huey’s 41 (receptions), if you look down our stats, there are like four or five guys with 20, 30 catches,” Pajic said.
Hugh Smith has snared 27 balls this season and is tied with Rubin among USF receivers with four TDs, and Ryan Hearn has chipped in with 23 catches. Smith and Hearn tied for most receptions (3) against North Texas while freshman Travis Lipp shared that honor with(5) Whittaker and Iskra against Connecticut. Pajic said although he encourages his receivers to want to make the key catches, there are enough opportunities for receptions in the Bulls’ spread attack offense that inflated egos don’t get in the way.
“They are all unselfish,” he said. “I mean, I want them to be selfish in the respect that they want the ball, and Marquel is happy to spread (the ball) around.”
And it can only be expected Blackwell will get happier as Rubin’s health continues to improve. Rubin has increasingly been more involved in the USF offense the last three games, and according to the 6-foot, 185-pound junior, he “feels great” and is “100 percent.”
“There are enough (balls to go around),” Pajic said. “And I think we’ve shown everyone can get a taste.”Mmm … forbidden doughnut.
- Brandon Wright covers football and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org