Jamie from Voodoo Five wanted to trade some game questions this week, so here you go.
On the Banks: Compare and contrast Skip Holtz with Jim Leavitt. Looking back, what's your take on Leavitt's exit?
Aside from being much more calm during games and much more accommodating with the media, Holtz rightly sees each game as a separate event requiring a separate plan. In years past, USF came into every game trying to do the same thing. If it worked, they won. If it didn't work, they lost, because they weren't likely to make major adjustments along the way. I think that's why Jim Leavitt's teams did successively worse in conference play, unless they just had superior talent (Syracuse) or if the other team played right into their hands (West Virginia). Over time, they tipped their entire hand. This season we've seen an array of different game plans -- for example, the conventional ball-control running plan against Florida, or last week's shotgun-oriented attack. The team is clearly better positioned to win, and I don't think any of our losses this year have been because the team was ill-prepared.
I'll be interested to see the level at which Holtz recruits. Leavitt was a bit nutty, but he was able to punch his weight and then some on the recruiting trail. Holtz took the job just in time to salvage the 2010 recruiting class, so this will be his first full class as head coach. While I think he is looking for a different kind of player than Leavitt's staff was, right now there isn't quite as much high-end talent on their radar.
As for Leavitt's ouster... it really depends who you ask. Some fans would have been happy to let him coach as long as he wanted as his due for building the program from the trailers up. Others wanted him gone years ago. I was sorely disappointed with his behavior (the incident and the aftermath) but didn't have a strong opinion one way or the other as to whether it warranted his firing. I did accept the outcome pretty quickly, and looking at it now, the incident really just moved up Leavitt's end game a few years. I don't think the year-to-year results would have changed too much if he had continued coaching here, and a move would have been needed eventually.
OtB: Quarterback B.J. Daniels has struggled at points this year with turnovers. What was different against Cincinnati? What's your assessment of his play thus far? How much of a difference have the injuries at receiver made?
VF: The difference was he found the open man and threw them the ball, as pathetic as that sounds. There were plays the previous two games where he didn't see receivers running wide open down the field, and he threw passes that weren't so much interceptions as they were completions to the other team. He had one awful pass to lead off the Cincinnati game, but other than that he played well.
USF has gradually shifted its offense to use more of the shotgun and spread sets that Daniels was familiar with from last year. He was having major problems working under center and reading defenses, so when conference play started, the offense began moving back towards familiar territory for him. He didn't execute very well at all against Syracuse and West Virginia, though, and I wonder if his game against the Bearcats might have been a fluke. Cincinnati's pass defense was poor (especially safety Drew Frey, who was burned on two of USF's touchdowns) and they hit an inordinate number of plays down the field. Daniels only completed 13 of 16 passes but threw for 286 yards. That's probably not sustainable.
The injuries to Sterling Griffin and A.J. Love have had some effect but not a catastrophic one. Todd Fitch, the offensive coordinator, has schemed around it, and you rarely see more than three wide receivers on the field at a time. Daniels has a good rapport with Dontavia Bogan and former quarterback-turned-receiver Evan Landi, and the rotation is a lot smaller than it has been in the past to help Daniels get more comfortable with his receivers. (That's another complaint from the Leavitt era -- there were entirely too many guys getting into the game at WR and RB.)
OtB: USF had a school-record five players taken in last year's NFL Draft. Who are some of the newer guys to look out for?
VF: Actually a senior is the biggest standout newcomer. Mistral Raymond joined the team as a walk-on in 2008, redshirted, moved from part-time safety last year to full-time cornerback this year, and hasn't looked back. He has excellent coverage skills and he tackles very well in any situation. I think last week was the first time all year he's been beaten down the field, and that was only because the Bulls brought the house on a 4th and 6, and he mistimed his jump trying to break up the pass.
There aren't too many freshmen playing big roles, but some of the other underclassmen who have stepped up this year are Sam Barrington and DeDe Lattimore at linebacker, Ryne Giddins at defensive end, Demetris Murray at running back, and because I think he will be important tomorrow night, Justin Brockhaus-Kann at punter.
OtB: Presently USF is tied for seventh nationally in sacks. Can that stat be attributed more to scheme or personnel, and how much of an impact will the loss of Craig Marshall be for this game?
VF: The scheme isn't that much different under defensive coordinator Mark Snyder than it was under Joe Tresey or Wally Burnham. They all played a 4-3, although Snyder has added some under alignments and tends to be less aggressive than his predecessors. Last week was a classic bend-but-don't-break effort. The defense gave up a school-record 590 yards, but they turned the Bearcats away twice on fourth down and kept them out of the end zone on two trips inside the 5-yard line. USF has 18 of its 21 sacks in the last four games and while they don't blitz as often as they used to, I think they have been more effective when they do. 12 different defenders have at least half a sack this year.
Marshall may be USF's best defensive lineman and he will be missed tomorrow night, but there are players capable of stepping up. David Bedford is the other defensive end, and Patrick Hampton will take Marshall's spot in the lineup, with Ryne Giddins likely to see a lot of playing time. Even with Marshall's injury it would be a disappointment if the Bulls struggle to put pressure on Chas Dodd.
OtB: Answer this to stay fashionable: gold or white helmets?
VF: Most likely white. The players love them and they're a lot better looking than the gold ones anyway. The only time USF wore the gold helmets this year was against Syracuse, so I doubt we see them again any time soon.
OtB: Is there any bad blood or animosity here?
VF: I don't know if there's too much coming back at us, but there is a ton of it among the USF fan base. I figured the team we would grow to dislike the most upon joining the Big East would be Louisville. Our battles with them go back to the Metro Conference in the early 1990s, before USF even had thoughts of starting a football team, and they were the top dog in Big East football right away. Instead, Rutgers has zoomed past everybody on our list, which on its face is so ridiculous that I've now come to find it pretty funny.
It all started with a billboard. This billboard popped up sometime in the fall of 2004 along Interstate 4 on the east edge of Tampa. At the time we thought it was kind of a pointless thing to do and didn't think much else of it, but it pissed Jim Leavitt right the hell off and permanently altered the course of this series. What should have just been a garden-variety conference matchup quickly turned into a big grudge match. That was followed by two heart-wrenching losses in 2006 and 2007 that I'd just as soon go back to suppressing, and then the two most recent blowouts. Not even a coaching change could slow down the ever-building hatred that most USF fans have for Rutgers.
There was also the incident in the 2009 offseason where Florida International suddenly canceled a game with USF so they could start their current series with Rutgers. I don't blame Rutgers for that nearly as much as I blame FIU (who USF now refuses to schedule in any sport) or the league office (who you think would have realized how hard it is to schedule five OOC games a year and stepped in to prevent friendly fire). But that was another thing that galvanized Bulls fans against Rutgers, and Greg Schiano in particular, who I think has surpassed Jeff Bower and George O'Leary as the most hated opposing figure in USF football history.
Now that we have a coach who isn't so personally wrapped up in this game, it seemed like a good time to re-evaluate. Obviously Schiano kept himself together better than Leavitt did, but they did have similar personalities -- intense, demanding, very hard-working, likely to rub some people the wrong way, and defensive in a good way of their work, their players, and their program. Why would we like those characteristics in our own coach and loathe them in another? It's not like USF keeps losing to a guy like Ralph Friedgen, who looks like he's barely even trying. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I bet I would like Schiano if he was my team's coach.
If you'll excuse me, I need to burn my clothes now and take about a 45-minute shower.
Felt the same way after we lost to PAT JULMISTE in 2005.