SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 03: B.J. Daniels #7 of the University of South Florida Bulls throws a pass against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on September 3, 2011 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
USF is a classic case where stats and reality don't align. Statistically this is one of the best and most balanced teams in the conference. From what I have seen they are good but not great on offense and defense. They do some interesting things from a schematic perspective on offense. On defense they are sound at basically everything, but they don't do any one thing at an exceptional level except perhaps rushing the passer, but more on that later. The stats say that the Bulls are a quality team. But the trend line is pointing resolutely downward after back to back defeats at the hands of Pitt and UConn in which the Bulls put all of 20 points on the board, and the questions, as ever, are directed at the QB.
For roughly the last 1,000 years the USF offense has been wholly reliant on the man under center. That much is obvious in the passing game, always has been. But what's different about USF is that they rely on their Quarterbacks to carry a heavy load in the running game. The 2010 season was the first since 2005 where a quarterback wasn't either the first or second leading rusher on the team. That is quite a streak and a trend that Skip Holtz has steadily been moving away from.
The idea obviously is that for USF to reach its full potential on offense that B.J. Daniels has to become a true quarterback, whatever that means. Early in the year the plan was working just fine with Daniels posting back to back 300 yard games for the first time in his career en route to a 3-0 start. But in the last three games his QB rating has plummeted 160.7, 102.0 and 91.8 in last weeks game. Daniels hasn't thrown TD since September 24th. To me this all has a very familiar feeling to it. Afterall Daniels was struggling mightily in the lead up to the game with UC last year, he then lit up the secondary like Diwali going for 286 yards and 2 TDs on just 16 attempts. The passing game is basically hit and miss, depending on how Daniels is feeling about the world, or the sun and its position relative to the center of the galaxy or some other inane cause.
The running game however is the unquestioned strength of the Bulls offense. They are currently leading the league with 215 yards per game on the ground, the Bearcats are second with 213, no one else is within 60 yards of the leaders. There are two big differences in style and composition between the Bearcats and Bulls. UC does it with basically one man, Isaiah Pead. The Bulls divy up the carries evenly between B.J. Daniels, Darrell Scott and Demetrius Murray. The other difference is that while UC is a strict inside/outside zone team the Bulls blocking schemes are more gap orientated. And That is actually going to be the topic of this weeks film study on Thursday.
I would be remissed to conclude a preview of the Bulls offense without mentioning two receivers Lindsey Lamar who is listed as a receiver but gets moved all over the field in the course of the game. His speed is something that must be accounted for. The other is Sterling Griffin who has twice as many catches and yards as anyone else on the team.
As I said in the intro the defense is good at everything, great at nothing. The stats bear that out 34th in scoring defense, 34th against the run, 48th against the pass, and 31st in total defense. What I see when I watch USF isn't really a great defense, but they are an opportunistic bunch. They are third in the Big East in turnovers forced with 16. There is one area where they are great, and that is up front along the defensive line. Ryne Giddins is probably the best defensive lineman on their roster, and if he isn't actually the best he is certainly the most talented.
In schematic terms the Bulls are very basic. Mark Snyder is part of the Jim Tressell coaching tree and approaches defense in much the same way. The main gaol is to prevent the big play and make the offense work the ball down the field in a very methodical way. Football to Snyder is a war of attrition.
The Bulls base defense is the 4-3 and they will seldom blitz. They might bring a linebacker here or there, but that is usually offset by a lineman dropping off into a zone. The most that I have seen USF blitz this year is 5 guys. In the back end they use a lot of cover two looks with a mixed bag of coverages underneath. The challenge for the UC line this week is completely different than against Louisville. Its about blocking the guy in front of you, not picking up the corner on an overload blitz.
Lindsey Lamar is a difference maker in special teams. He is the reigning special teams player of the year. So far this year he has been held in check, but just like on offense he has to be accounted for on every play. The Bulls kicking game is hit and miss. Maikon Bonani is the hit as the place kicker, Justin Brockhaus-Khan is the miss as the punter. Phil Steele ranks the Bulls special teams as the 99th best in the country.
The Final Word
USF is a talented team, but the inconsistency that has plagued the program for years has not been fixed yet by the Holtz staff. The way I look at this Bulls team is basically how I looked at UC last year. There is enough talent to beat almost any team on the schedule, and enough inconsistency to lose them all too.