ON THE BEAT: South Florida

Tampa Tribune beat writer Joey Johnston spoke with Pack Pride about the Wolfpack's next opponent, South Florida. Johnston talked about the team's strengths, weaknesses, and much more in this exclusive interview.

Tampa Tribune beat writer Joey Johnston spoke with Pack Pride about the Wolfpack's next opponent, South Florida. Johnston talked about the team's strengths, weaknesses, and much more in this exclusive interview.


Do you have an update on the quarterback situation? Do you think it will be Mike White or Steven Bench?
It sounds like Mike White will start and play, but Willie Taggart hasn't said that. That's the implication I have though.

White suffered the injury on the first play of the game against Maryland when he tried to break his fall. He suffered a compression fracture to his left forearm/wrist.

It didn't look good, but with the MRI and X-Rays were encouraging. He's thrown in practice, and I think he will play, but play with some pain. I'm guessing that he's going to start.

Taggart doesn't want to play musical chairs at that position. Last year they used four quarterbacks, but they believe Mike White is their guy and they are sticking with him, so that's who I think will start.

What type of a quarterback is White and how does he compare to the backup, Steven Bench?
He's a 6-foot-4 dropback passer with a live arm. He can run and make first downs with his legs, but he's not a runner. However, he's not immobile. He is a leader. He's a drop-back passer and can throw the deep ball.

Bench is a better runner. He had a 15-yard touchdown run against Maryland. He's a scrappy runner while White is more of a pocket passer.

It sounds like true freshman tailback Marlon Mack is the real deal. Has he impressed?
Very much so.

Especially in the opener, even though it wasn't against great competition. He had a huge game. He's fast, he's tough, but mostly he's smart. He's a really instinctive, smart runner who knows how to set up his blocks. He knows when to hit the hole and turn the corner.

For a young kid, he's been great. As much as they've talked about having a committee at running back, they've talked in the preseason like they may split carries, but it seems like Mack will be the guy based on what we've seen through two games.

The top receiver, Andre Davis, didn't play against Maryland. What is his status?
We don't know. He bruised his sternum in the opener on a great reception. He had difficulty last week with his ribs and breathing. According to Taggart, it's about rest with that injury. We're not sure if he'll be ready to play or not.

He had caught a pass in 31 straight games, a school record, and he's a really good game away from being the all-time leader in receptions and yards.

He's a captain and a major loss. If I had to guess, I don't think he plays.

What type of a scheme do they use on offense?
They run a pro-style offense. It's a balanced, run-pass attack. They want to get their running game going, and they will throw to the tight ends a lot. It's very similar to the 49ers under Jim Harbaugh and the Stanford offense.

They like to run the ball, get it to their tight ends, and overpower you with their offensive line. They are bigger and stronger up front, and that was a big emphasis in the offseason. They have four starters returning [on the offensive line], and it looks like that will be a strength of the team.

What about on defense? Is it a 4-3 or a 3-4?
They've changed to a 3-4 and that was due to their personnel. They've had big losses on the defensive line. They've been deep there in the past, but now the 3-4 allows them to take advantage of their depth at linebacker.

Linebacker is a strength. Nigel Harris looks like he's going to be a real star. He's moved inside and is up to 220 pounds and hasn't lost any athleticism. He looks like he can be a special player.

They also have a couple of nice players in the secondary.

They have athletes on defense. Their defensive line is okay. They have a good nose tackle, but their biggest strengths are at linebacker, they come at you in waves, and the secondary has playmakers now.

How about weaknesses?
They weren't getting great pressure the first game. They gave up a ton of yards, but Western Carolina threw 66 passes and a lot of those were bubble screens.

South Florida gave up a ton of yards, but they didn't seem alarmed by it. People were freaking out but the coaches and players seemed happy there weren't a lot of big plays.

In the second game they were more aggressive and attacking. They produced turnovers and it was one of the better defensive games they've played in a long time.

Overall, their defense does look very promising, and they are all young too. As bad as they were on offense last year they were actually 21st on defense, which is terrific given how many young players they played.

What about the special teams?
Worst game they've had in several years. They had a blocked punt that tied the game, they also rolled a snap back on a field goal attempt. They missed a 54-yard attempt and you can't really penalize them for that. Their kicker was a Lou Groza finalist last year so you know a lot of people don't think he should miss a kick.

They also didn't cover well, but they will be better. They just had a bad game.

Special teams is a strength. They have a great kicker and punter.

Finally, what do you think are their concerns with NC State?
Probably two factors, NC State's defensive scheme and how do they stop Brissett.

They haven't seen the 4-2-5 defense much, and they are concerned about that.

They are also concerned about Brissett's ability to make plays on the run. The defense knows they have a tough challenge.

They have great respect for NC State's coaches. There are some connections there, and they've said that the NC State coaches are going to get it done up there.

South Florida just wants to follow up on last week... one they let get away. This is the third of four straight homes games to open the season. This is a critical week because if they win they are 2-1 and have conference opener next Friday night on ESPN.

They truly want to win this game. It's critical... it's important and can set the tone for the rest of the way.

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