Column: Blackwell must keep momentum

Marquel Blackwell had a week off from the bruising and battering. A week off from the reps and snaps of daily practices and the hits from defending opponents. Yeah, a week off, something Blackwell hasn’t had since early August.

However, if you saw the boot weighing Blackwell down during his off week you’d think Western Illinois’ Michael O’Brien was still shackled to the junior quarterback. By the way, O’Brien is the last of sixteen men who have been able to catch USF’s scrambling leader, as he sets record after record in South Florida’s still burgeoning program. Blackwell spent a week in his air brace, his ankle immobilized, protecting an injured toe. He returned to practice this week with a revitalized step and as head coach Jim Leavitt puts it, “he has the chance to be an outstanding quarterback. You know he’s pretty good, but my expectations are pretty high.”

He’ll return to practice this week, as he prepares to end his junior season against a 4-4 Utah State team, that similarly to USF, has a winning streak. Their four wins this season have come in their last five weeks.

An Oct. 13 bye changed the outlook of the Aggies season. After losses, to No. 13 LSU, No. 6 Oregon and No. 20 BYU, Utah State needed a week off. But what doesn’t need a week off is momentum, and both the Bulls and the Aggies are relying on such momentum. Momentum is a tricky thing in football, ask receiver DeAndrew Rubin. Before being sidelined with a turf toe injury, the receiver had four touchdowns in the first two games, but has struggled to regain the yardage and dominance he displayed earlier this season. Yeah, there’s time off to rest those nagging bruises and injuries that are commonplace to a football player at this point in the season, but then there is the rolling carryover of continued success.

Now Blackwell will be called upon to carry his team’s momentum against the Aggies for the Bulls’ final game. And momentum is the key word when it comes to this game. It’s hard to find a coach or player who wants to admit that once the proverbial ball stops rolling, it’s hard to get it back into its rotations. And though Blackwell has returned to practice, he has had a week off.

He spent a week away from the scrambling and shuffling he has become accustomed to. Now don’t think that Blackwell’s arm has somehow atrophied in the span of a week – he has the ability to come in strong and in full strength. However, the last time South Florida had a week off between games was after the Sept. 11 disasters when USF lost to Memphis Sept. 22, 17-9. The game before, USF upset Pittsburgh and Blackwell was nearly flawless, going 37-for-65 with four passing touchdowns and one on the ground. But make no bones about it, Blackwell is rested, his buised and battered bones aren’t fully healed and he’s not at full speed, but he has 30 starts behind him and knows how to make plays.

“Marquel is very dificult (to defend), not only does he have great talent, he’s just elusive,” assistant head coach Rick Kravitz said.

“He’s really smart. He doesn’t let you get him or sack him, because he knows how to get rid of the ball.”

Whether Blackwell allows himself to think about it or not, he is going to have to rely on his skills and focus on the task at hand – carrying the momentum. Momentum like five wins in a row behind Blackwell’s 2,753 passing yards, which he is sure to add to this weekend. If momentum isn’t on his mind then it should be, especially with a quiet Heisman push next year slowly gaining noise around the football program.

  • Jarrett Guthrie covers football and can be reached at