With USF’s football season nearly at the midpoint, it’s time to evaluate where the Bulls stand. There were many question marks heading into the season and some have been answered, as the Bulls delve into their Big East conference schedule.
Six games in, there haven’t been too many weak spots with a 5-1 record. The Oracle looks back at the first half and grades for USF position-by-position.
Redshirt freshman B.J. Daniels has had a lot asked of him this season, having to step in for one of the best players in USF history: Matt Grothe, who tore his ACL against Charleston Southern.
In just three starts, it’s still difficult to gauge Daniels as an overall quarterback. He can run, and he’s shown the ability to make plays through the air, hitting on touchdown passes of 85 and 73 yards. Overall, USF quarterbacks have a 153.5 passer rating and have completed 60 percent of their passes. Grothe and Daniels combined have thrown 12 touchdowns to six interceptions.
Daniels still has much to learn, but the quarterback play has been relatively reliable this year.
Injuries and off-the-field issues hit USF early at running back. Junior Mike Ford was suspended for the first two games, and junior Jamar Taylor, a potential starter, hasn’t played this year because of a knee injury suffered in fall camp.
The Bulls have depth in the backfield but still don’t have a go-to option. USF’s top three backs (minus Daniels) average close to 5 yards per carry combined.
Before Thursday’s loss to Cincinnati, the wide receivers unit had been one of the best positions on the team. Sixteen different Bulls have catches. Junior Carlton Mitchell’s 404 receiving yards ranks seventh in the conference. Mitchell, however, dropped a crucial would-be touchdown pass Thursday.
There were a number of missed chances against the Bearcats. However, this unit still has been more than reliable through the first half of the season.
Coming into the season, the offensive line was supposed to be a weak link. It has been anything but that, however. Granted, Daniels seems to be able to elude just about anyone on his own, but the line has given up less than two sacks per game – down almost a half a sack on average from last year.
The defensive line almost single-handedly won the FSU game on Sept. 26. USF’s line averages almost three sacks per game. There is a lot of depth, as USF uses an almost 10-player rotation.
Defensive ends George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul are both potential NFL products. Pierre-Paul already has 8.5 tackles for loss with only three starts. Eight different Bulls have sacks, with Craig Marshall’s four leading the team.
The linebackers unit was one that had to replace key personnel from a year ago but hasn’t lost a step in performance.
Led by senior Kion Wilson, who the coaches refer to as one of the hardest workers on the team, USF is giving up only 3.6 yards per rush. Sure, the defensive line has a lot to do with it, but the linebackers have filled holes as well.
Wilson had eight tackles against Cincinnati. With a limited rotation, however, depth may be a concern heading down the stretch.
USF has given up just one passing play of more than 50 yards and only two of more than 30 yards this season, much to the credit of defensive coordinator Joe Tresey’s secondary.
For the most part, the back of USF’s defense has kept everything in front of them. Credit goes to the defensive line for the constant pressure, but the secondary has gelled and sophomore safety Jerrell Young has recovered from a broken arm suffered in the opening game of the season.
There’s depth and versatility, with seniors Nate Allen and Jerome Murphy, and upcoming younger players like sophomore Quenton Washington and freshman Kayvon Webster, who all have had significant playing time. Allen leads the Big East with four interceptions.
Everyone knows about USF’s field goal troubles, as USF kickers are just 4-for-11.
A welcome sign came during Thursday’s second quarter, when junior walk-on Eric Schwartz hit a 50-yard field goal, the fourth longest in USF history.
The punt and kick return units have been relatively quiet and the coverage units have been apt. USF hasn’t allowed a punt or a kick return for a touchdown this year.
Will kicking field goals remain USF’s Achilles’ heel for the remainder of the season?
Offensive MVP: WR Carlton Mitchell
Defensive MVP: S Nate Allen
Newcomer of the Year: DE Jason Pierre-Paul
Player to watch for the second half: WR Jessie Hester
– Staff Report