Thursday, May 10, 2012
What we learned in the Big East
By Andrea Adelson
With the season coming into view, let's take a look at what we learned in the Big East this spring.
1. Running backs have to prove themselves. Isaiah Pead is gone. Antwon Bailey is gone. Ray Graham is coming off a serious knee injury. There are some major question marks at virtually every Big East school at this position headed into the fall. Chief among them -- how does Graham do a year removed from ACL surgery? How do Cincinnati, Syracuse and Louisville spread the ball to their various running backs? How does Temple replace the production of Bernard Pierce? Does Savon Huggins improve on his injury-shortened freshman season at Rutgers? How is Lindsey Lamar used in the backfield at USF? Can Lyle McCombs repeat as a 1,000-yard rusher for UConn?
2. Next sack leader? The Big East generally has some of the top leaders in sacks in the country. Last year, it was Trevardo Williams and Aaron Donald who emerged to finish in the Top 10. The year before, it was first-year Big East player Bruce Irvin. So who is the next Big East player to lead the charge? USF defensive end Ryne Giddins, Cincinnati defensive end Walter Stewart and UConn tackle Ryan Wirth all had terrific springs so keep those names in mind as the season begins.
3. Earth to offense. We had an inkling that the Big East defenses would be way ahead of the offenses this spring, and that all came to fruition once the spring games were played. Defenses essentially dominated at nearly every school. Syracuse did not score a point on offense; UConn had two total offensive touchdowns; USF quarterback B.J. Daniels went 9-of-26 for 88 yards in the Bulls' spring game; Chris Coyer and his receivers struggled in the Temple spring game; and the Pitt passing game was just so-so in its final scrimmage. While it is true defenses are usually ahead of the offenses in the early going of practices, it is obvious most every offensive unit needs to get much better this offseason.
4. Bridgewater: Rising star. It was apparent that Louisville had a special player in Teddy Bridgewater last season. But worries about a potential "sophomore slump" have been temporarily put to rest after the spring he had. Bridgewater was stellar in the spring game, going 19-of-21 for 257 yards and three touchdowns. Afterward, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said that Bridgewater completed about 70 percent of his passes in the spring. "I know he's been lights out," Watson said. "He's really played very well. I challenged him with the things he needed to get better with and use all the tools he has available to him. As a young player, he didn't quite get it. Now he's getting it. You're seeing a lot more completions now. He's worked hard. He's doing a lot of good things with his eyes and playing well."
5. Athletes (almost) everywhere. One trend to watch is the conversion of quarterbacks to running backs/receivers. Cincinnati moved Jordan Luallen to receiver, and he is expected to see time as a Wildcat quarterback as well. Ashton Broyld has been moved to running back, though he also played receiver in the spring game. Louisville converted quarterback Dominique Brown to running back last fall, and he is in contention to win the starting job. Temple running back Jalen Fitzpatrick was recruited as a quarterback out of high school. Those four players have the potential to be huge assets to their team. There were a few other notable position switches as well -- Lindsey Lamar is now at running back at USF; and Jeremy Deering is now a receiver at Rutgers.