In what has not been a surprise, the USF offense has been very up and down thus far. There were concerns about the offensive line and the running back corps coming in and those have proven to be well founded. While USF is averaging a respectable 150 rushing yards per game, a third of that comes from QB B.J. Daniels. The RB corps just has not been consistent. As for the line, they have had massive trouble against USF’s non-FCS opponents. While opponents only have 3 sacks thus far, much of that is due to Daniels’ scrambling ability. He’s been under constant pressure.
Speaking of Daniels, it has not been surprising that he has been very up and down. Despite nearly 40 career starts, Daniels (1142 yards, 57%, 9 TDs, 6 INTs, 199 yds rushing, 1 TD) is always going to struggle with some of the finer points of the position such as accuracy. However, he is one of the most dangerous QBs in the country when it comes to producing big plays. The only problem for Bulls’ fans is that Daniels is as apt to throw incompletions and interceptions as he is touchdowns. It’s truly feast or famine with him.
With Marcus Shaw battling an injury, USF has gone with the one-two punch of seniors at RB. Demetris Murray and Lindsey Lamar. Murray (207 yds, 3.7 avg, 3 TDs, 5 receptions, 72 yds) is the power back who gets the bulk of the carries while Lamar (141 yds, 6.1 avg, 1 TD, 5 recs, 80 yds, 2 TDs) is a former WR who can hit the home run. He has been a pleasant surprise thus far. Shaw is listed on the depth chart for the game, but has been battling an ankle injury and it’d be a surprise to see him much, if at all.
Luckily for USF, the WR corps is probably the deepest part of the team because the injury bug has hit here as well. Last season’s leading receiver, Sterling Griffin, was lost for the year with a knee injury while former UF transfer Chris Dunkley, probably the biggest home run hitter of the group, missed the Ball State game with an injury and it is iffy if he’ll play. That leaves the onus on Andre Davis (23 recs, 309 yds, 3 TDs), Terrence Mitchell (16 recs, 289 yds, 1 TD), water bug Derrick Hopkins (7 recs, 105 yds, 1 TD), Victor Marc (4 recs), and Deonte Welch (3 recs) as the guys to watch. Davis has been the go-to guy while Mitchell and Hopkins have provided the home run threat.
At tight end, USF has a couple of seniors in Andreas Shields and Evan Landi. Landi caught 57 passes in 2010 and 2011, but has struggled to get involved so far this year.
The offensive line was breaking in two starters to begin the year and Mark Popek was shifting from LT to LG, but the transition has been tougher than I think most USF fans thought. The line struggled so much in the Ball State game that coaches gave up on the experiment of senior Damien Edwards at LT and Popek at LG and had them flip-flop for the second half. They are going to stay that way for the FSU game. Center Austin Reiter and RT Quinterrius Eaton were the two new starters and Reiter has struggled badly. Senior Danous Estenor is the RG and he is okay.
New defensive coordinator Chris Cosh has already drawn the ire of most USF fans as the Bulls have struggled on defense thus far this year. No part of the defense has been immune as USF is allowing 161 yards rushing per game, opponents are completing 64% of their passes, USF has not picked off a pass, and the defense did not record a sack or a single tackle for loss against Ball State. And for anyone who watched USF get picked apart by Rutgers on a Thursday night, the Bulls lack much of a pass rush. Furthermore, Cosh has been content to sit back in soft coverage, hoping opponents will make a mistake. With the pass rush lacking, that seems like a recipe for disaster.
There were concerns entering the season about the defensive ends as junior Ryne Giddins appeared to be the only sure thing. Giddins (12 tackles, 1.5 sacks) has not played as well as he did last season, but he is also receiving more attention. JC transfer Tevin Mims (17 tackles, 1 sack) won the starting job over junior Julius Forte (8 tackles, 0.5 sack), but both will play. Mims is more of a pass rusher while Forte boasts more size.
The play of the defensive tackles has been disappointing given the talent USF has here. Senior Cory Grissom (15 tackles, 0.5 sack) and junior Luke Sager (16 tackles) have started all four games and have the talent to be much more disruptive. Speaking of talent, sophomores Todd Chandler (11 tackles, 3.5 for loss, 1 sack) and Elkino Watson (8 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack) were both highly regarded recruits who are the future of the position. They have the talent, but just need to work on finer things like technique. True freshman James Hamilton, a one-time FSU verbal commit, is a space-eater who will see time too.
The Bulls have a solid trio of starting LBs in senior SLB Sam Barrington (27 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 sack), senior MLB Michael Lanaris (29 tackles, 1 for loss), and junior WLB DeDe Latimore (36 tackles, 4.5 for loss, 2.5 sacks). Barrington and Latimore can produce big plays while Lanaris is a leader. You would expect the run defense to be much better with these three. Backup WLB Mike Jeune is the only proven commodity off the bench.
The secondary was pretty bad in 2011 and while they aren’t giving up ridiculous numbers, the pass defense is not much better so far this year. Nevada, Rutgers, and Ball State all threw for at least 244 yards and completed a high percentage of their passes so this group is worrisome, especially with CB Kayvon Webster and SS JaQuez Jenkins banged up. Webster is expected back, but he missed the Ball State game with a knee injury and may be rusty.
At corner, Webster (19 tackles) is far and away the best option on the roster. That being said, Webster is more solid than anything. He isn’t a shut-down type. Senior George Baker, who had made 3 spot starts in his career, won the starting job opposite Webster and has started all four games. Baker (15 tackles, 4 pass breakups) is decent. Junior Joshua Brown (8 tackles, 1 for loss), who started the Ball State game in Webster’s absence, and true freshman Chris Bivins, who has only appeared in one game thus far, are the top backups.
The depth is much better at safety, although the injury to Jenkins forced him to play the past two games coming off the bench and he is again listed as the backup at SS to senior Jon Leijste. Jenkins (15 tackles, 1 for loss) has better range than Leijste (14 tackles, 2 PBUs), although the senior has more experience and is better in run support. Senior Ernie Tabuteau (9 tackles) has parlayed a solid spring into some reps at strong safety as well. At free safety, juniors Mark Joyce and Fidel Montgomery have both gotten starts, with Joyce getting three and Montgomery one. Joyce (24 tackles) had a solid spring, but has been just average thus far. Montgomery (9 tackles), a JC transfer, started off at CB but moved to add more range and cover skills to the safety spot.
Kicker Maikon Bonani has hit on all four of his field goal attempts, but has missed two extra points. Punter Justin Brockhaus-Kann is averaging 41.9 yards per punt. Terrence Mitchell has done well returning punts, but Lindsey Lamar has been ineffective returning kicks.
Same old USF? The Bulls are getting a reputation for being an up-and-down team that can never quite put it together due to turnovers, penalties, mental mistakes, or all of the above. So far this year, it looks like the same old USF. The Bulls pulled one out of their hats in the comeback win against Nevada, but were dominated, despite the close score, by Rutgers and struggled with MAC member Ball State. Being negative five in turnover ratio and losing the time of possession battle isn’t helping matters. The Bulls have been fairly solid moving the ball on offense, but they tend to make costly mistakes. The defense has struggled to get off the field and could be a problem all year.
The Bulls don’t lack for talent, but they have some things going against them. For all his big-play ability, Daniels will never be consistent or accurate and he’ll always make a mistake or three. The RB corps is fairly average and not deep. The WR unit is good, but is struggling with injuries. The offensive line is average, at best, and has not gelled thus far.
On defense, the Bulls aren’t getting a pass rush and their top players along the line aren’t playing up to snuff yet. The LB corps appears solid, although they need to help shore up the run defense. The secondary is weak at CB even if Webster is on the field. Add to this that USF doesn’t have proven depth except at WR, DT, and S and you can see why they have struggled. Now the coaches have to hope the season doesn’t get away from them. It very well could with road games against Louisville, UM, and Cincinnati still looming, along with home dates with FSU, UConn, and Pittsburgh.
FSU fans are surely worried about a potential letdown after the national TV win over Clemson. However, this seems to be a new, focused Seminole team. That doesn’t mean that USF cannot win. They have enough talented athletes to pull off the upset. However, if FSU arrives focused, that could be all it takes because FSU has more talent, more depth, and has shown better intangibles thus far. I wouldn’t be shocked if Daniels hits the defense for a big play or two and the Bulls steal a trick play from Clemson, but I think the Seminoles pull away in the second half. I’d guess a score along the lines of 31-14.