By now everybody knows the Bulls lost to the Gators Saturday, and even though losing is never fun, there were a lot of bright spots to take from the loss to Nationally ranked Florida. The USFN staff takes a look at them here.
Offensive line played much better than expected
Even though USF essentially returned its entire offensive line from last season, they did not perform consistently at a high level, and there were question marks going into the season as to how they would perform against top flight competition. Based on the stats through two games, one could say that the offensive line has made great strides. Against the Gators on Saturday, Coach Holtz said that four out of five offensive linemen graded out as winners, which is something that could rarely be said last season. During the first quarter and most of the first half, the offensive line generated solid push at the line of scrimmage.
This was best illustrated on USF's first offensive drive in which the Bulls drove from their own four yard line culminating in a 17 play-96 yard drive in which quarterback B.J. Daniels completed a 2 yard TD pass to senior tight end Andrew Ketchel. The Bulls were able to milk close to ten minutes off the clock and more importantly wore down the Gator defense. The drive showed a good amount of designed quarterback runs along with a few solid runs by the running backs.
Overall, Daniels was able to gain 107 yards rushing with a 6.3 yards per carry average. Although Daniels has remarkable scrambling abilities, his best runs were from designed plays and coincidentally some of his worst runs were off of scrambles. Sixth year Senior Mo Plancher seemed comfortable in the new one-cut running attack implemented by the new offensive regime. He gained 32 yards on 6 carries, a 5.3 yards per carry average. The USF offensive line dictated the pace of the game during their first drive and kept the speedy Florida defense on its heels. When your offensive line unit can pave the way for 244 yards rushing with a 6.3 yards per carry average against an extremely fast and talented defense you have to be happy.
Aside from that, the offensive line was able to minimize the amount of sacks given up as well. You can say that is a function of Daniels's ability to scramble and keep plays alive with his feet, but they only allowed 1 sack for 6 yards and only 4 tackles for loss. You really can't ask for much better numbers considering the talent of Florida's front seven.
Running Back by Committee Might Not Be Such a Bad Idea
One of the biggest gripes last year was the use of the running backs. The Bulls rotated quite a few running backs last year with mixed results and failed to establish a number one go-to guy. This year, Coach Holtz and Coach Fitch have reiterated in interviews that they will continue to use a running back by committee approach until they establish that number one guy. During the game, USF rotated a few backs but generally stuck with the hot hand, which was not necessarily done last year.
During the Bulls' first offensive possession, Mo Plancher was the first to tote the rock and made a few nice plays. Plancher's first carry came after a USF false start penalty which put the Bulls in first and long. Old Bulls' conventional wisdom would have been to pass the ball, however USF stuck with the run and Plancher gained 10 yards up the middle following his blocks and hitting the hole aggressively. This set up a manageable second down and the Bulls were able to gain a first down on their next two plays. This may seem like something negligible, however these were the types of small plays that Bulls did not execute last year and as a result led to quite a few stalled drives.
Sophomore running back Demetrius Murray made his case to see increased playing time for USF. He gained 62 yards on 11 carries for a 5.6 YPC. He showed some of his explosiveness with a 33 yard burst down the left side which put the Bulls in good position to score, if it were not for a crucial fumble. Ball security still needs to be emphasized to these young backs, but they showed potential. True Freshman Marcus Shaw continued to show why he is a solid option out of the back field and although he only had 3 carries, he gained 16 yards on those and displayed nice vision and followed his blocks well. Overall, it was a pleasant surprise to see the running backs perform so well as a unit. There is still a lot of room for improvement but going against one of the top defenses in the nation provided a good litmus test for where the Bulls are right now.
Passing Game Still Needs a lot of Work
As solid as the Bulls were in the running game, it was the exact opposite in the passing game, as the Bulls receivers struggled against a stout Gator secondary. With the injuries to starters A.J. Love and Sterling Griffin, the Bulls already had a patchwork receiving corps with a few players who were not even recruited to solely play the position.
Evan Landi was recruited as an athlete/quarterback/receiver and converting to full time wide receiver is still a work-in-progress. Lindsay Lamar, an undersized speedster was a running back last year and is still making the adjustment to being a legitimate slot option. When Dontavia Bogan got injured on the first drive, it was not something the Bulls could afford as he is the only legitimate experienced option. The fact that the Bulls had to rely on a walk-on true freshman wide receiver to play against the Gators speaks volumes in how bad of shape the receiving corps is in.
A lot can be said about Daniels's passing performance which was abysmal but the receivers gave him absolutely zero help. Not a single receiver was able to gain even an inch of separation against Florida's secondary and as a result Daniels threw four interceptions. You can not expect a high percentage passing attack when your receivers can not get open. Another observation was the lack of a screen game against Florida. The Bulls utilized numerous screens and short passes against Stony Brook and those plays were rarely called if any against Florida. This was perhaps a function of the Florida defenses' lateral speed, but it would have been nice to see them incorporate more of those types of plays to negate some of the pass rush. It would have also afforded B.J. Daniels a little bit more rhythm in the passing game.
The Use of the Option
We have not seen a true option attack since the days of Pat Julmiste and Andre Hall so color me surprised when I saw the Bulls employ it during their opening offensive possession. In the recent past, the Bulls have relied heavily on the zone read as opposed to a true option attack and it was a breath of fresh air to see the Bulls go against the status quo. While it was only used on a few plays the Bulls were able to garner some success with it. The first option play came on USF's first offensive possession where B.J. Daniels ran right and pitched it to Lindsay Lamar for a 6 yard gain. You could tell the Gators were caught a little off guard by this and it was a great way to put the speedy Lamar in space to make a play. The second option pitch also went to Lamar and he showed off his wheels gaining 21 yards.
Even though the option was successful in its limited usage, I understand the staff's reluctance to keep using it. For one thing, this was a hostile environment. The crowd noise was deafening and the Bulls were already having communication issues on offense, so there was no need press the issue and put themselves in a worse situation. The option is also a very difficult play to execute and since this was the first time they have used it in a while, it was perfectly reasonable to perhaps limit it against a very fast and opportunistic defense. Overall though, it was a nice wrinkle to add to the offense and I expect the Bulls to clean up some of its execution during their next few games especially since it's against significantly weaker competition.
The Punting Game Performed Surprisingly Well
Dating back to last season, the Bulls punting game has been less than stellar and with a brand new punter taking over, it was one of the major concerns entering this season. First time starting punter Justin Brockhaus-Kann performed very well considering the circumstances. He booted five punts for a total of 244 yards which equals out to a 48.8 yard average. He had two punts that landed inside the opposition's 20 yard line and a long punt of 57 yards. The battle for field position was something that USF did not benefit from much last season. If Brockhaus-Kann can build off of this performance, this could go a long way in helping the Bulls win games this season.
The Bulls May Have Found Their New Kick Returner
Sticking with the theme of special teams, the Bulls may have found an answer at the kick returner spot in Lindsay Lamar. Special teams as a whole has not been a strength on this team over the last few seasons, so it was surprising to see the Bulls gain even marginal success against one of the most well coached special teams units over the past few seasons. Coach Holtz has been looking for viable options since the spring and that continued into summer with several different players earning tries throughout camp. Lamar was able to return three kickoffs for a total of 87 yards for an average of 29 yards per return with a long of 39 yards. Again, this plays into the battle for field position, and Lamar capitalized on his opportunity. As the season progresses, he should see more time at the position.
Defense Line Questions Answered?
One of the many question marks for the Bulls entering this season was how are they going to replace two NFL defensive ends. They might have answered that question on Saturday. The Bulls' defensive line unit played admirably against the Gators' offensive line. The stat sheet might not reflect it all, but starting ends David Bedford and Craig Marshall had standout performances. Bedford was around the ball quite a bit and played his assignments well and the same can be said for Marshall. Even though Marshall and Bedford might not be as talented as George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul, they showed that they are capable of playing at a high level. The overall depth of the defensive line unit might be the best it has been in years. Terrell McClain showed some fire and provided good push even though the stats do not show it.
Overall there were quite a few positives on defense considering how young and inexperienced they are. For most of the first half the Bulls defense held the Gators offense in check, not even allowing a field goal attempt until 2:14 seconds left in the half, which they missed. Then an untimely interception deep in the Bulls territory led to a TD. The secondary for the most part played well, limiting Brantley to 172 yards passing on 31 attempts for a paltry 5.5 yards per attempt average. While there were a few lapses against the run, overall, the unit played well if you take into account the bad positions they were put in via the offensive turnovers.
Again it is very difficult to garner many positives from a 24 point loss but considering the lack of wide receiver depth, the special teams questions and the overall youth of the defense there is a solid foundation to build upon for this season and years to come. Even though this still might be a rebuilding year, the Bulls are clearly going in the right direction.