Two Relative Upstarts: KU vs. USF

The last time the University of South Florida and the University of Kansas matched up on a college football field, it was a game between two up-and-comers.

For Kansas, many of the players who excelled in that game went on to drive the Jayhawks to a 12-1 record and a victory in the Orange Bowl. Meanwhile, USF rode its talent to nine wins for two consecutive seasons and all the way to a number two ranking at one point in 2007.

It’s no surprise the teams have followed similar paths to success –both Jim Leavitt and Mark Mangino were standout assistants at Kansas State that left with a packed resume and an attention to detail. That’s served Leavitt well in southern Florida, where he’s amassed an 81-47 record over his 12 seasons as USF coach. Perhaps most importantly, his program has seen a steady incline that has seen him pull more and more players out of zones previously monopolized by Florida’s big three.

Offensively, USF utilizes a spread attack much like the one utilized by the Jayhawks. They use a lot of rotation through the skill positions and use many similar formations, like the diamond formation that the Jayhawks love to use.

The Bulls also have a more-than-capable triggerman in junior Matt Grothe (6-foot, 205 pounds). The Bulls use the mobile Grothe in a number of ways, rolling him out of the pocket, running some option and using him as another running back. He can definitely move – Grothe is the Bulls’ second-leading rusher this season. But, like his counterpart Todd Reesing, Grothe often looks downfield for passing options when he’s flushed, making him dangerous. This season, he’s completed 60.4 percent of his passes for 448 yards and five touchdowns. He can also make costly mistakes, and he’s thrown two interceptions thus far.

Depending on their health status, Grothe has a bevy of ballcarriers to hand the ball off to. The best of the bunch is probably Mike Ford, a 225-pounder who sat out the Central Florida game with an ankle injury. Also injured may be Ben Williams (5-7 200), a versatile senior starter. Filling in has been junior Mo Plancher (5-9 200), a stocky player who runs hard and with some burst. He’s done admirably, leading the team in rushing with 115 yards on 17 carries and three touchdowns. Sophomore Jamar Taylor (5-9 200) also sees some carries and has potential. The Bulls program has kept the status of the injured runners close to their vest.

USF also utilizes a number of athletic receivers to get the ball down the field. Taurus Johnson (6-1 205) starts at the ‘Y’ position and leads the team in receiving. He’s a big play threat that is fresh off one of the top five games in USF receiving history. Sophomore A.J. Love (6-3 202) has excellent potential from the ‘X’ spot. Marcus Edwards (5-11 172) and Jessie Hester (6-0 180) give the Bulls athletic options from the ‘Z’ and ‘H’ receiving positions respectively. This group is so deep that last year’s leading receiver Carlton Mitchell (6-4 212) is now a backup, behind Love. Cedrick Hill (6-3 244) is an athletic pass catcher and a red zone threat. He had two touchdown catches against UCF.

The offensive line received a blow this week when they found out that starting right guard Zach Hermann (6-3 313) had a broken foot. He’ll be out four weeks. Into Hermann’s place will step sophomore Jake Sims (6-5 285), a former walk-on and utility man. Center Jake Griffin (6-4 307) is the leader of the offense, while Ryan Schmidt (6-4 320) and Mark Dile (6-4 300) form a solid tackle group. Matt Huners (6-3 290), who was injured for most of 2007, will start at the left guard spot.

The Bulls boast the number one total defense in the country, thanks in large part to a speedy front seven and a back four that finds the ball well. Everything starts with All-American defensive end George Selvie (6-4 245), who had 31.5 tackles for loss last year, including 14.5 sacks. He has yet to get his first sack this year, but that’s largely because he’s faced double and triple teams on nearly any play. His play has given the defensive tackle group of Sampson Genus (6-1 314), Terrell McClain (6-3 306) and Aaron Harris (6-4 270) plenty of playmaking opportunities. Jarriett Buie (6-4 250), a senior at the other end spot, has talent, but must be more consistent.

The linebacking group has the potential to be among the best in the country. Tyrone McKenzie (6-2 235) had 250 tackles combined between 2006 and 2007, more than any linebacker in the FBS. He was a second-team All-Big 12’er at Iowa State in 2006 before moving on to South Florida and becoming one of the team’s rocks on defense last year. This year, McKenzie has 12 tackles, including three in the backfield and one sack. Brouce Mompremier (6-1 230), a former Jayhawks recruiting target, had 83 tackles a year ago. Junior college transfer Kion Wilson (6-2 235) mans the middle.

The defensive back group is trying to recoup from the loss of two cornerbacks to the NFL in Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams. So far, the Bulls’ cornerbacks haven’t really been tested. Senior Tyller Roberts (6-1 190) starts at the boundary cornerback position on the short side of the field, while Jerome Murphy (6-1 185 junior), plays the field cornerback position. Nate Allen (6-2 206) is a potential All-American at free safety. He’s always around the ball. Strong safety Carlton Williams (6-4 210) is experienced and tough.

The Bulls have had their struggles in the kicking game, where Delbert Alvarado has been 1-4 on field goals, including an untimely shank at the end of the UCF game. That prompted Leavitt to name true freshman Maikon Bonani as his starter for the Kansas game. Alvarado will still start at punter, where he’s averaged 45.4 yards per punt. Justin Teachey handles the kickoffs. The Bulls need to improve their coverage as well – Joe Barnett of UCF took back a kick for a touchdown last week. The Bulls do boast some nice return men, including Murphy, who nearly set the USF season return yardage record last year. Johnson also returns kicks, while Edwards takes back punts.

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