NCF Nation: Demetris Murray

Cincinnati dominates South Florida

November, 23, 2012
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The game between Cincinnati and South Florida turned out the way most anticipated it would before kickoff.

Without much on the line for either team, we were left with some pretty uninspired football at times. A first-half punt-fest eventually turned into a pretty dominating 27-10 win for the Bearcats on Friday night. And once again, two of the most pleasant surprises in the entire Big East led Cincinnati to the victory.

George Winn posted his fifth 100-yard game of the season, and Travis Kelce set the school single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end. Winn had two touchdowns rushing and Kelce had one receiving as Cincinnati (8-3, 4-2) was able to overcome a sluggish start on Senior Day.

As for USF, this is a team that has struggled to get any sort of offensive production or consistency going with B.J. Daniels on the sideline. The Bulls had gone 10 consecutive quarters without a touchdown, until Demetris Murray got into the end zone in the fourth quarter to break that streak. Before that score, the last time USF scored a touchdown was in the first quarter of its Nov. 3 victory over Connecticut -- when Daniels was still healthy.

Coach Skip Holtz's decision-making was called into question again following Murray's score. USF decided to go for the extra point to make it 27-10. Had USF (3-8, 1-5) gone for two and made it, the Bulls would have trailed by 16 points (or two scores).

Quarterback Matt Floyd struggled once again, though he was better in the second half. In the first half, USF only had 95 total yards and Floyd had five pass completions. He did better after halftime, but was not nearly as productive as a starting quarterback should be. He is missing several of his top playmakers, but he also had many playmakers out there -- including Andre Davis.

The Bulls had problems holding onto the football as well. They had EIGHT fumbles, though they only lost two. And now, they are the first USF team to ever lose eight games.
Generally speaking, speedsters hate to tack on weight to their bodies.

Lindsey Lamar used to be in that camp.

But after adding some 20 pounds to his body during offseason workouts, Lamar has radically changed his point of view.

"I feel better than I ever felt in my life," Lamar said in a recent phone interview. "I used to think adding the weight, I wouldn't feel so good. But now I feel great. I'm still able to run well, and I'm able to do all the things I could do, plus more."

Lindsey Lamar
Mark Zerof/US PresswireFor South Florida's Lindsey Lamar, the thin build he had while playing receiver is a thing of the past.
Lamar has bought completely in to a strategic plan to overhaul his body. Shortly after winning the 60 meter indoor title at the Big East championships, Lamar made the move to running back during spring practice. Lamar had been bounced around between that position and receiver, but coaches decided once and for all he would benefit the most from a move to the backfield.

At 5-foot-9 and 164 pounds, his playing weight was not ideal for a running back. So the strength and conditioning staff came up with a plan for him to start lifting more weight and putting on some major pounds, to get his body prepared for the rigors of playing the position.

"It's a high-collision position, and adding more weight pads the body because of the contact," offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said. "He's always been a physical runner, so this will add a little more punch to him where he can finish his runs off with a little more mass to his body, so he can fall forward at the contact points. He will still move and feel good about himself, and this will do something for his confidence. If you have that edge to you mentally, and you feel good about yourself, that will make him a better player overall."

For a smaller player like Lamar, bulking up has meant force-feeding himself. Nearly every meal takes hours to eat.

"I eat until I'm about to pass out, literally, every day," Lamar said.

That means eating a whole large pizza by himself on Wednesdays. Or an entire rotisserie chicken with a giant bowl of macaroni and cheese and rice. Or a giant helping of spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread. A gigantic steak. The entire eating experience has not been pleasant, but Lamar sees the results.

He can now lift about 20 more pounds, up to 305. As for his body weight, he is now up to 185 pounds and has not lost any of his speed, something that was a concern when he initially started.

"I feel faster, feel more explosive definitely, and I think with the explosiveness comes more quickness," he said. "I just feel great."

Lamar joins a pretty crowded backfield, with veteran Demetris Murray, Marcus Shaw, Bradley Battles and Willie Davis all competing for playing time. But Fitch said Lamar and Murray are leading the charge after impressive performances during the spring.

"He and Demetris will be running at the forefront with the [starters]," Fitch said. " We always play two backs, but this is the first time since we've been here where one of those two guys has game-changing speed like Lindsey does. We've had Moise Plancher and Demetris, 4.5, 4.6 guys. Last year, Darrell (Scott) was a big body, physical runner, but wasn't a home-run hitter. So I think Lindsey will get those touches, and that gives us a great opportunity to create big plays."

Now, Lamar cannot wait for the season to get started, with his new body at his new position.

"Running back is my heart," he said. "I love running back. I played RB all my life. I'm just so excited for the year, and want to do anything I can to help the team win."
TAMPA, Fla. – When people think of USF, they think of a team that …

“Don’t say it,” quarterback B.J. Daniels interrupts.

He knows what is coming. So does everybody in the football facility. The Bulls have been a big tease, raising hopes with eyebrow-raising wins, only to dash them with eyebrow-raising losses. Last season only added to that reputation, after USF squandered a 4-0 start and national ranking with its worst season since joining the Big East in 2005.

How can a team with so many big nonconference wins crash so spectacularly in Big East play? You might have an easier time figuring out the meaning to life. No matter the season, something generally goes wrong in Tampa. Last season, it was four games lost on the final play, and the end result was a 5-7 season and no bowl game for the first time as a BCS team.

Daniels and his teammates have lived through the drama the past few seasons, and yes, the perception about their program bothers them. They intend to end all the jokes about the Beat-a-Bulls this season behind a strong senior class that has banded together to make a change.

“We’ve been ranked, we’ve beaten big teams, we’ve been projected to do this and that, but for whatever reason it doesn’t work out,” Daniels said. “We take pride in what we do. We’re not out here punching a clock. A lot of us have passion for the game and love it. It does bother us in the sense that the goals we have set out in the past, we haven’t accomplished. One approach that’s different is we are taking everything one game at a time. If we do the little things every day, we’ll end up where we want to be."

That, of course, would be with Big East championship rings for the first time. USF has plenty going for it as it works toward improving this spring. Eighteen starters return, tops in the Big East. But perhaps most important is a senior class of 24 strong. At least 12 will be starters; at least 18 will be on the two-deep. Every position but receiver will have at least one senior starter. That includes Daniels, who has started nearly every game of his career.

[+] EnlargeB.J. Daniels
Danny Wild/US Presswire"It does bother us ... that the goals we have set out in the past, we haven't accomplished," B.J. Daniels said.
Compare that to last season, when USF had 17 seniors -- only six of them starters.

The larger group has actually been a more united group. After the season ended, the seniors got together to form a plan.

"We said we can’t have another season like we had last year," running back Demetris Murray said. "Days we’re supposed to be off, we're here, working out. We’re not letting days slip by that we can take advantage of."

Seniors have an expanded role in team meeting rooms. The added responsibility of setting an example for the younger players has been embraced wholeheartedly. The goal is to get everybody to buy in, from the most experienced players who have been through all the heartbreak to the freshmen who just want to play.

"All seniors have that urgency to win," linebacker Mike Lanaris said. "But the thing that we need to do as a senior class, we need to permeate that urgency throughout the team. It can’t be 25 guys have this sense of urgency to win a championship while the other 80 guys are worried about something else. We need to spread that sense of urgency and those small things that are going to make a difference need to be stressed. If we can get everybody on the same page, we have a chance to be really, really good."

Lanaris mentioned small things. Paying attention to those critical details has just about every player hooked. The mantra from coach Skip Holtz, repeated since last year, has become a rallying cry. Ask any player, and he will say it, probably as a reflex:

Little things lead to big rings.

So does a renewed focus on conference play, where everybody has to get as excited and motivated as he does when playing geographic rivals like Florida State or national names like Notre Dame. Though USF is really in its infancy as a program, getting some of those bigger nonconference victories ratcheted up expectations for the Big East. If the Bulls can beat Notre Dame on the road, surely they can handle UConn, right?

"We’ve talked a lot about what our goals are and what we want to do and want the next step is," Holtz said. "People talk about, 'Well we’ve got to beat Florida State, we’ve got to beat Miami and we’ve got to beat Florida.' I would have rather lost to Notre Dame and won every won of those close games in the Big East than the way it happened (last season). To me, the next step isn’t to beat a Florida State or a Miami or a Notre Dame or an Auburn. Our next step needs to be able to run the table in the Big East. We need to get to where we can play in a BCS bowl. To win those nonconference games and not play in a BCS bowl takes some of the luster away from those big wins. ... We’ve just got make sure that our players understand the season starts in conference. That’s what we’re playing for."

On paper, this should be the year USF breaks through. This is a veteran team with solid senior leadership -- the best, most vocal leaders since Holtz arrived. Depth is better across the board. Optimism is high. And it doesn't hurt that West Virginia is out of the league.

But when people think of USF ...

"The M.O. here has always been -- they're a talented team that underachieves," Lanaris said. "We want to break that."

Big East recruiting needs

January, 23, 2012
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National signing day is inching ever closer, so it is time to take a look at the biggest recruiting needs for every team in the Big East.

Cincinnati

Defensive line. Cincinnati loses a host of seniors from this position, including Co-Defensive Player of the Year Derek Wolfe, John Hughes, Monte Taylor, and Rob Trigg. Factor in the key contributors for 2012 will be seniors in Dan Giordano, Brandon Mills and Walter Stewart and it is time to reload at this position.

Receiver. There is some promising young talent on the roster, but several guys are going to be leaving in the next few years. The Bearcats really need a guy who can stretch the field and make some big plays to join Anthony McClung and Alex Chisum.

Secondary. The Bearcats are going to take a hit at this position after 2012, losing a ton of seniors-to-be, including Cam Cheatham, Drew Frey, Dominique Battle and Reuben Johnson. Senior safety Wesley Richardson is already gone. The lone four-star commitment the Bearcats have is from a safety, Marcus Foster.

UConn

Quarterback. This need has been addressed in this recruiting cycle, with junior college transfer Chandler Whitmer and Casey Cochran already enrolled in school.

Tight end. With the impending departure of Ryan Griffin and John Delahunt, the Huskies could use another young player to be groomed to take over. Tight end is a critical part of the UConn offense.

Offensive line. UConn is losing its two best linemen in Moe Petrus and Mike Ryan. Of the 16 linemen currently listed on the roster, seven are juniors or seniors. Linemen generally take a redshirt season, so it never hurts to sign more to be able to restock.

Louisville

Linebacker. The Cardinals are losing Dexter Heyman and have a lot of juniors and seniors on their roster at this position. It is no surprise, then, that three of the top players coming in are linebackers -- Keith Brown and James Burgess are already enrolled; four-star recruit Nick Dawson has given a commitment.

Offensive line. Louisville has young players here, but not much depth, as evidenced this season when several true freshmen were forced to play much earlier than anticipated. It never hurts to build depth here, and the Cardinals have gotten a huge commit from four-star guard Abraham Garcia out of Miami.

Running back. This was an area the Cardinals struggled in this season, having to move quarterback Dominique Brown to the position. Victor Anderson is gone, and this team could really used another back to carry the load.

Pitt

Quarterback. This one is pretty self explanatory if you watched Tino Sunseri play. Mark Myers and Trey Anderson are also on the roster, but the Panthers are in definite need here -- which is why so many fans are looking forward to commit Chad Voytik coming to town.

Linebacker. This has been an area of inconsistency for the Panthers, who lose their best player in Max Gruder. There are some young players with talent in Todd Thomas and Ejuan Price, but this position could definitely use an upgrade.

Receiver. The play of the offense was disappointing this season, and that includes the receivers. Pitt could use some players to stretch the field. Ronald Jones was a start this season. But when you consider that Cameron Saddler, Mike Shanahan and Devin Street will all be upperclassmen in 2012, this is a definite area of need.

Rutgers

Receiver. Mohamed Sanu is gone, and Mark Harrison is a senior to be. There is plenty of young talent, but there is a reason Rutgers has commitments from four athletes. This gives the Scarlet Knights the flexibility to try them at receiver or running back, another area of need.

Running back. Once Savon Huggins got hurt this year, Rutgers had Jawan Jamison and Jeremy Deering at running back and that was about it. Depth has to be developed here.

Offensive line. Strides have absolutely been made at this position, but coach Greg Schiano likes to reiterate that the Scarlet Knights aren't going to pull themselves out of the hole they were in overnight. They need another solid draft class at this position to keep building.

USF

Secondary. Injuries and inconsistent play this season showed the Bulls really lacked some depth and need some immediate help in this area, which is why they signed junior college cornerbacks Fidel Montgomery and Josh Brown. One of their top four-star commitments is cornerback Chris Bivins.

Quarterback. Beyond B.J. Daniels, a senior in 2012, the Bulls have Bobby Eveld and Matt Floyd as the two heirs to take over. Eveld has been less than impressive, and we don't know much about Floyd. The Bulls would be served to get another quarterback in as they prepare for the future.

Running back. Darrell Scott is gone, and the Bulls are really in need of a game breaker at this position. Demetris Murray is going to be a senior, and nobody else really has stepped up at the position. Depth has to be built here, because USF goes into spring practice with four running backs on the roster.

Syracuse

Defensive line. The Orange are losing Chandler Jones and Mikhail Marinovich and could really used some difference-makers up front who can help get after the quarterback. Depth is an issue here. One of their big commitments so far has been defensive end Josh Manley out of Georgia.

Secondary. This was one of the weakest parts of the team and now the Orange lose Phillip Thomas and Kevyn Scott, and there was a lack of depth when injuries hit this position in 2011. Brooklyn prep safety Wayne Morgan would be a huge get to add to this unit.

Receiver. Alec Lemon is a senior, Van Chew is gone and who knows what happens with Marcus Sales. The bottom line is the Orange are in major need of a game-changer to turn 15-yard passes into 40-yard receptions.

West Virginia

Quarterback. Geno Smith is a rising senior and after him it is crickets in the form of one player behind him in Paul Millard. So consider this need majorly filled with Ford Childress, ranked No. 139 on the ESPNU 150.

Offensive line. The most inconsistent part of the team in 2011, West Virginia has a major need here. The Mountaineers struggled so badly here they started converted defensive lineman Curtis Feigt late in the season. Don Barclay is gone, and Joe Madsen, Jeff Braun and Josh Jenkins are all upperclassmen.

Defensive line. Julian Miller, Josh Taylor and Bruce Irvin are gone, and there are depth concerns here. West Virginia has four commitments from defensive linemen already.

Final: Louisville 34, USF 24

November, 25, 2011
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What an incredible turnaround for Louisville: from a 2-4 start to Big East champions.

The Cardinals clinched at least a share of the league title after a 34-24 win against USF -- its first ever victory at Raymond James Stadium. Their hopes of clinching a BCS berth also remain alive. All they need is for Pitt to lose, and Cincinnati to lose at least once in the next two weeks. The Panthers play West Virginia tonight; Cincinnati is at Syracuse on Saturday.

Louisville took control in the fourth quarter, when a series of USF mistakes led to its unraveling. The Bulls, playing without starting quarterback B.J. Daniels, led 17-3 at one point in the second quarter, and took a 24-20 lead into the fourth. The Cardinals decided to go for it on fourth-and-inches from the USF 13, and a great second effort from Dominique Brown allowed them to get the first down. Teddy Bridgewater threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to DeVante Parker, who was wide open in the end zone because of a miscommunication in the secondary.

Louisville took a 27-24 lead, then added to it after USF freshman receiver Andre Davis fumbled at the USF 17. Brown rushed for a 9-yard touchdown for the final score. The Bulls really struggled to move the ball in the fourth quarter. Its only score of the second half came on a trick play, when Demetris Murray threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Deonte Welch.

The Cardinals (7-5, 5-2) still need help to make the BCS, but this still has been a remarkable season when you consider all the adversity this team had to overcome -- from its tough start, to having a young team that has had trouble focusing at times this season, to the scary neck injury suffered by Anthony Conner.

Bridgewater is all but assured of winning Big East freshman of the year honors after another solid performance, throwing three touchdown passes on the day. Louisville converted 9 of its 18 third-down opportunities. USF: 4-of-15.

Bobby Eveld struggled with Daniels on the sideline, going 20-of-35 for 210 yards with a touchdown an interception. The problem in the second half was an inability to sustain drives, the same problem that plagued the Bulls last week.

Now USF (5-6, 1-5) needs to beat West Virginia next week in order to keep its string of seven straight bowl seasons alive. The Bulls have blown second-half leads in four of their games this season.

Final: Rutgers 20, USF 17, OT

November, 5, 2011
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Rutgers became bowl eligible after an incredible come-from-behind win over USF, erasing a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 20-17 in overtime.

Who had a role in the comeback? None other than Chas Dodd.

Rutgers coach Greg Schiano turned to Dodd in the fourth quarter to relieve an ineffective Gary Nova, who was 11-of-24 for 110 yards and a lost fumble. Dodd was not effective to start, but he came on strong after a huge momentum-shifting play. USF went up 17-3 with 7:38 to play after Demetris Murray capped an 89-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run.

But Jeremy Deering returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and Rutgers was right back in the game. USF went three-and-out on the next possession. That is when Dodd worked his comeback magic. He and Mohamed Sanu continually burned the Bulls, including on a critical fourth-and-9 conversion that kept the drive alive. Rutgers tied the score with 1:08 remaining.

Dodd nearly blew the game, though, when he threw an interception late. B.J. Daniels marched USF down the field in no time, and set up for the game-winning 27-yard field goal from Maikon Bonani with 2 seconds left. But he missed it, and the game went into overtime.

Daniels threw an interception on the opening USF drive. San San Te did not miss his game-winning opportunity and nailed a 37-yarder to win to cap the improbable comeback.

USF, which dominated the game, has dropped four straight and is 0-4 in Big East play. The Bulls held Rutgers to minus-7 yards rushing and outgained the Scarlet Knights 381-228. But once again they found a way to lose. A team that started the season with a win over Notre Dame is now in danger of not making a bowl game.

Final: Cincinnati 37, USF 34

October, 22, 2011
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Cincinnati won an incredibly topsy-turvy game against USF 37-34 to take over sole possession of first place in the Big East and become bowl eligible to boot.

A game that was poorly played in the first half turned into one of the most exciting games in the Big East this season. The fourth quarter alone featured three lead changes, none more definitive than the final drive that Cincinnati scored on to take the win.

After B.J. Daniels threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to true freshman Andre Davis with 1:27 to go to take a 34-30 lead, Zach Collaros marched the Bearcats 70 yards on seven plays, and scored on 2 yards out for the game-winning touchdown. Earlier in the quarter, Collaros had another rushing touchdown and a 30-yard touchdown pass to Alex Chisum to erase a 27-17 deficit and take a 30-27 lead.

Both drives were aided by multiple personal foul calls on USF. The game-winning drive had USF flagged for pass interference in the end zone, setting up the rushing score by Collaros -- who ended up with five total touchdowns on the day.

Collaros rebounded from a terrible first half in which he threw two interceptions -- including one in the end zone -- to post his first 300-yard game of the season. He had to be more effective, because USF did a nice job shutting down Isaiah Pead, holding him to 3.6 yards a carry.

B.J. Daniels threw an interception midway through the fourth quarter that made Bulls fans groan. But after forcing a Bearcats punt with about 3 minutes left, the Bulls found the moxie deep within to drive 83 yards down the field. That included a huge 21-yard flip pass from Daniels to Demetris Murray as it appeared Daniels was going down. Daniels also finished with over 400 yards passing as the ground game also was ineffective for the Bulls.

USF (4-3) has now dropped three straight and falls to 0-3 in conference. For Cincinnati (6-1, 2-0), the Bearcats are going back to a bowl after a disappointing 4-8 and have been one of the most surprising stories in the Big East. There was plenty that went wrong for both teams, from too many penalties, to too many turnovers, to too many mistakes on special teams.

But Cincinnati surely will take this huge victory.

What to watch in the Big East

October, 20, 2011
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Here are the top storylines to watch in the Big East for Week 8:

1. Bowl eligibility. Cincinnati, Rutgers and West Virginia all have a chance to become bowl eligible this week. But they all are on the road, and Big East teams are 1-5 in conference road games this season. Which team will break through and become the first from the Big East to secure its postseason future?

[+] EnlargeSmith
AP Photo/Chris JacksonWest Virginia QB Geno Smith has thrown 17 touchdowns with just three interceptions this season.
2. West Virginia offense vs. Syracuse pass defense. It is no secret how good the Mountaineers have been on offense with Geno Smith running the show. The scary part is coach Dana Holgorsen insists he has not even reached maximum potential. Smith has a talented group of receivers in Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin and Ivan McCartney, who each have more than 400 yards receiving this season. How will Syracuse cover them? The Orange have faced their share of top-notch receivers already this season, and have given up more than 300 yards passing in four of six games. Getting pressure up front will help take pressure off the back end.

3. Pressure on Smith. That leads to the next point. Syracuse has not generated much of a pass rush this year, with 13 sacks in six games, and that is something the Orange did well against the Mountaineers last season. Can they turn things around against an offensive line that has been excellent at protecting Smith? Chandler Jones returns, which should help.

4. USF rush offense vs. Cincinnati rush defense. This is a great matchup of the No. 1 run offense in the Big East against the No. 1 run defense in the Big East. Twice already the Bearcats have held opponents to negative rushing yards. But they might have a difficult time doing that against the Bulls. Their lowest rushing total came in the opener -- 126 yards at Notre Dame. Darrell Scott, B.J. Daniels and Demetris Murray all rank in the top 10 in the Big East in rushing, and each has a vastly different running style that the Bearcats will have to stop.

5. Isaiah Pead. He might not have the high rushing total, but Pead is having a terrific year, mainly because of his ability to break off game-changing plays. Pead ranks No. 6 in the nation, averaging 6.78 yards a carry, and already has touchdown runs this season of 40, 65 and 50 yards. His 50-yard run last week put the Bearcats ahead for good against Louisville. Remember, this is a USF defense that gave up more than 200 yards to Ray Graham, and Pead is just as good as him.

6. Freshman QBs. Louisville and Rutgers will feature a battle between true freshman quarterbacks as the Cardinals are expected to start Teddy Bridgewater against Gary Nova. Both were highly touted coming into school, and both took over their teams after the season began. Both have shown flashes, but you can bet that the No. 1 goal of these aggressive defenses will be to rattle the young quarterback.

7. Dee-fense. Not much scoring is expected between Louisville and Rutgers, that is for sure. Rutgers ranks No. 1 in the Big East in scoring defense, giving up an average of 16 points a game. That is about what Louisville averages on offense. Meanwhile, the Cards rank No. 3 in the Big East in scoring defense, giving up an average of 17.7 points a game. No team has scored more than 25 points on them this season.

8. Turnovers. Rutgers and Cincinnati have gotten off to their fast starts because they have done well in the turnover battle. Can they win that all-important stat again? Last week against Louisville, the Bearcats had an uncharacteristic interception return for a touchdown and put the ball on the ground four times, though they recovered them all. They now face a USF team that is plus-5 in turnover margin on the season -- but minus-3 in two league games. Louisville has had a hard time creating takeaways, with just six on the season. Contrast that to Rutgers, with 24.

Final: USF 37, Ball State 7

September, 10, 2011
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No. 22 USF breezed to a 37-7 win over Ball State, showing no signs of a letdown after an emotional week.

The Bulls came into the game off a big win at Notre Dame, but also mourning the loss of Lee Roy Selmon. Tributes to him were all over the place during the game, with his No. 63 on the field and on helmets. But USF was on from the start -- and has now outscored opponents 46-0 in the first half this season.

The Bulls ended up with 519 yards of total offense and a school-record 33 first downs. B.J. Daniels only played a few series in the second half before giving way to Bobby Eveld. Daniels finished with 359 yards passing, one touchdown and one interception. Darrell Scott and Demetris Murray each had one touchdown on the ground.

Ball State came into the game after an upset win over Indiana. The Cardinals run a high-tempo spread offense, but the USF defense stymied them. Ball State had 218 total yards and scored its lone touchdown in the fourth quarter with the USF backups in the game. Claude Davis had a huge game as well, with a forced fumble and sack.

Halftime: USF-Notre Dame

September, 3, 2011
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Here is a quick halftime analysis of the USF-Notre Dame game:

Turning point: The opening drive of the game. Notre Dame easily drove down the field on USF and made it all the way to the 1. But Jonas Gray was stripped by Jerrell Young. Kayvon Webster picked up the ball and returned it 96 yards for a touchdown and a quick 7-0 lead for the Bulls. Notre Dame has been out of sorts since then, with two more turnovers and zero points.

Stat of the half: Zero. Notre Dame has had two trips inside the USF 5-yard line and came away with zero points. In addition to the fumble by Gray, Dayne Crist threw an interception into the end zone to DeDe Lattimore.

What USF needs to do: The recipe for the second half should be the same as the first. USF played quite a clean first half -- no turnovers and just one penalty for five yards. They do not want to crawl into a hole and get too conservative, but you can bet they will continue to try to establish B.J. Daniels, Darrell Scott and Demetris Murray in the ground game. Daniels actually leads the team with 39 yards on nine carries at halftime.

What Notre Dame needs to do: Quit turning the ball over and take advantage of long drives. The Irish actually outgained USF in the first half 191-144. They have been able to get some nice chunks on the ground. Cierre Wood has 84 first-half yards on 15 carries. So Notre Dame has been able to move the ball. But three turnovers and five penalties have been absolute killers.

USF jumps to quick lead

September, 3, 2011
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- USF jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead on Notre Dame thanks to some big-time defense.

Notre Dame marched down to the 1-yard line on the first drive, but Jerrell Young stripped Jonas Gray. Kayvon Webster picked up the ball and returned it 99 yards for a score. USF added a 49-yard field goal from Maikon Bonani to go up 10-0 in the first quarter.

It is early in the game, but a few takeaways so far: Notre Dame has gotten its way on the offensive line, and that allowed the Irish to break off some big runs and pass plays on the first few drives drives. But give the USF defense props for making the big plays when they needed. USF already is rotating in plenty of defensive linemen. True freshman Elkino Watson has seen the first playing time of his career. On his first play in, he made a tackle.

USF has only had one drive on offense, but it featured two designed runs for B.J. Daniels. Demetris Murray started the game at running back, but both he and Darrell Scott got carries. Sterling Griffin also had his first catch since 2009.

Storm clouds are rolling in, so we could see some rain here shortly.
We continue our team position rankings today with running back. The running back situation in the league is similar to the receiver situation. Only one team returns its leading rusher from a year ago (Rutgers leading rusher Jordan Thomas is now at cornerback). Most everyone has a lot of young, unproven talent waiting in the wings.

So how to judge? To make these rankings, I considered returning starters, accolades for returning starters, depth and potential. I went with the top 2 teams based largely on the belief that their No. 1 running backs will be the two best in the league even though depth is lacking. Everybody else has significant questions so I weighed depth and potential more heavily.

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Pead
Mark Zerof/US PresswireRunning back Isaiah Pead is part of a strong returning backfield for Cincinnati.
1. Cincinnati. The Bearcats have perhaps the best back in the league in Isaiah Pead, a second-team Big East selection last year after he ran for 1,029 yards and six touchdowns. A healthy Darrin Williams should help, too. Joining them this year are two highly touted true freshmen in Jameel Poteat and Akise Teague, making this a unit that has returning talent and even more potential than last season.

2. Pittsburgh. The Panthers have one of the best running backs in the league in Ray Graham, but behind him there are major questions. Zach Brown is transferring in from Wisconsin, so that should help. Depth is a major concern, but Graham is the reason this unit is up so high. Some of the incoming true freshmen among Malcolm Crockett, Jeremiah Bryson, Isaac Bennett, and Corey Davis are going to have to play.

3. West Virginia. Noel Devine is gone, leaving a big hole to fill at the running back spot. This is one of the biggest positions of intrigue going into fall camp because it is so wide open. True freshman Vernard Roberts came in during the spring and did a nice job. Ryan Clarke, Shawne Alston, Matt Lindamood and Trey Johnson are in the mix. But expectations are high for true freshmen Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison to contribute as well. The Mountaineers have the best depth but no No. 1 back right now, which is why they are here.

4. Louisville. Another big-time rusher in Bilal Powell is gone and so are his 1,405 yards. Victor Anderson had a nice spring, leaving many to hope he can return to the form that he showed as a freshman. He and Jeremy Wright could be a fearsome 1-2 combo. The Cardinals are committed to running the ball, so that is a plus, and a big reason why the Cardinals are ranked No. 4. The big question here is how an inexperienced offensive line is going to affect the run game.

5. Syracuse. The Orange lose Delone Carter and his 1,233 yards. But Antwon Bailey is back and ready to assume the starting job. Bailey had 554 yards last season, but he is not the power back Carter was. Prince Tyson Gulley is second on the depth chart, and there are others who could contribute: Steven Rene, Jerome Smith, Mario Tull and maybe even freshman Greg Tobias. There also is freshman Adonis Ameen-Moore, a bruiser with speed.

6. USF. Hopes are high for Darrell Scott to come in and transform the Bulls rushing game. He is eligbile after transferring in from Colorado, and so is Dontae Aycock, a transfer from Auburn. Demetris Murray, who ran for 573 yards last season, also returns. But there are questions here. Will Scott be the savior? He was OK at Colorado and had a so-so spring. Who is the game-breaker? The Bulls traditionally have struggled to run the ball consistently. USF has not had a 1,000 yard rusher since 2005.

7. Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have struggled in the run game since Ray Rice left and believe they might have a game-changer in true freshman Savon Huggins. No question the young man has talent, but will he step in right away to start and make a huge impact out of the gate? Jeremy Deering, De'Antwan Williams and Jawan Jamison are in the mix as well, but all eyes are going to be on Huggins. One key to this whole mix -- how much better will the offensive line be to help the run game?

8. Connecticut. The Huskies lose their MVP in Jordan Todman, who led the league with 1,695 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns. Also gone is backup Robbie Frey, leaving this position a gigantic question mark. DJ Shoemate is penciled in to start and is the team's leading returning rusher with 115 yards and a touchdown. Redshirt freshman Lyle McCombs also will be in the mix to start and there are some true freshmen who might play as well.

Previous rankings:
The number 1,000 is like Mount Everest for a college running back. Forget for a moment that over 12 regular season games plus a bowl, a runner has to average fewer than 77 yards per game to reach the milestone of 1,000 yards in a year. It's still a magical number.

The Big East has been blessed with top tailbacks the past few seasons, including five 1,000-yard rushers in 2010 (and two more guys who topped 920 yards last season).

Who will get there in 2011? Let's take a look at the top candidates, in order:

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Pead
AP Photo/Al BehrmanCincinnati's Isaiah Pead is the Big East's leading returning rusher.
1. Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati: Pead is the Big East's leading returning rusher this season, having produced 1,029 yards last season. The senior could be in for an even bigger year in '11 if he can stay healthy and the Bearcats offense can remain committed to the run.

2. Ray Graham, Pittsburgh: Graham ran for 922 yards and averaged 6.2 yards per carry despite splitting carries with Dion Lewis last season. Now as the featured back -- and the only experienced ball carrier -- in new coach Todd Graham's fast-paced offense, Graham might be the safest bet of any Big East player to top 1,000 yards this year.

3. Antwon Bailey, Syracuse: Bailey rushed for 554 yards last season and now should be the starting tailback behind a veteran Orange offensive line. Delone Carter topped 1,000 yards each of the past two seasons in this offense, so Bailey could do the same if given the same opportunities.

4. D.J. Shoemate or some other Connecticut back: Picking a UConn back to go over 1,000 used to be a given. Donald Brown eclipsed 2,000 in 2008, two backs got into four figures in 2009, and Jordan Todman finished second nationally in rushing a year ago. The Huskies still have a powerful offensive line that will pave holes, and the running game will be important with an unproven quarterback. But there's no clear heir to Todman. Shoemate has gotten most of the reps this spring but must prove he's elusive enough to be an elite tailback. If not, perhaps Lyle McCombs or an incoming freshman will get a shot.

5. Unknown West Virginia back: Most of the focus on Dana Holgorsen's offense centers on the passing game. But Holgorsen had a 1,500-yard back last year at Oklahoma State and 1,200-yard one at Houston in 2008. So the Mountaineers could definitely see a player cross that threshold. The question remains whether that would be Ryan Clarke, Shawne Alston, Daquan Hargrett, Andrew Buie or whomever.

6. Jeremy Wright, Louisville: The sophomore likely will succeed Bilal Powell, who finished as the second best runner in the Big East last year. Wright showed his ability in limited time when Powell was hurt a year ago, and the Cardinals proved their commitment to running the ball under Charlie Strong in 2010. But Wright has also missed this spring with an injury, and the offensive line must replace four starters. Senior Victor Anderson has a 1,000-yard season under his belt but must regain his freshman form.

7. Darrell Scott/Demetris Murray/Dontae Aycock, South Florida: Call them the 3-D backfield. It's unclear which back will emerge as the leader in the USF backfield, whether it's the Colorado transfer Scott, the Auburn transfer Aycock or Murray, who ran for 542 yards a year ago. They might split carries so much that no one guy reaches 1,000.

8. Savon Huggins or another Rutgers back: The Scarlet Knights haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher since Ray Rice, though Joe Martinek got close two years ago. The conventional wisdom is that super-recruit Huggins will earn the running back mantle when he arrives this summer. But first he'll have to beat out Jeremy Deering, De'Antwan Williams and Jawan Jamison. And the Rutgers offensive line will have to be a whole lot better to clear the way toward 1,000 yards for any one back.
South Florida held a spring game on Saturday that wasn't really a spring game, as the Bulls still have another scrimmage next weekend. But they were in Raymond James Stadium and getting after it in front of the fans, so let's review the particulars.

The unexpected star of the show was true freshman quarterback Matt Floyd, who finished 20-of-34 for 233 yards and a touchdown. That included 6-of-7 passing against the first-team defense, as Floyd saw more snaps than planned because Bobby Eveld got hit in the jaw early. With Jamius Gunsby taking the rest of the spring off to fix his academics, Floyd could rise to No. 3 or even higher on the quarterback depth chart.

Starting quarterback B.J. Daniels was less sharp, completing just 13 of 29 passes for 145 yards and an interception. Dropped passes marred the offense's day, and head coach Skip Holtz was not happy about it. Consistency in the passing game, of course, was a big problem for last year's team.

"It was pretty discouraging watching the passing game," Holtz said. "Defensively, they ran every blitz known the man. But I thought just the way we executed the passing game was really poor. ... We're definitely going to have to get better at that if we're going to have any shot as an offensive football team."

Demetris Murray led the team in rushing with 10 carries for 57 yards. Transfer Darrell Scott didn't get much of a chance to impress; he pulled a hamstring early on and will miss the rest of the spring.

The defense controlled things most of the way. Luke Sager had two sacks, while Quenton Washington and Mark Joyce each had interceptions.

"It was ugly to watch," Holtz said of the scrimmage.

The game drew only 2,493 fans, a staggeringly low turnout for a spring game. Perhaps fans are waiting to attend this Saturday's on-campus scrimmage.
Here is Part II of my pre-spring interview with South Florida coach Skip Holtz, in which we look forward to spring practice and the 2011 season. You can read Part I here. And if you missed Holtz's comments on his quarterback situation, you can find those here.

You don't bring back a lot of starters. But considering how many guys you played last year, how comfortable do you feel with your returning experience this season?


Skip Holtz: I do feel like we return quite a bit of experience. You look at a guy like Mark Popek on the offensive line, who didn't start but played quite a bit, and Danous Estenor played quite a bit. Obviously Bobby Eveld started one game. I'll just use the quarterback position: last year in the spring, we had one quarterback on scholarship; this spring we're going to have four. I look at the improvements we've made there from a competitive standpoint.

[Tight ends] Andreas Shields and Jeff Hawkins played. We had a number of running backs play. I look on the defensive line and we played four defensive ends and even though we graduated two of them, Ryne Giddins, Patrick Hampton and Julius Forte played just as much as the starters did. We played about seven linebackers a year ago, so even though we lost three, you return four with a significant amount of experience. I think we redshirted some really good players. We return all four of our safeties a year ago. We played three cornerbacks and two of them return.

So I think we have a great nucleus to build on. I definitely feel like we're much farther ahead than we were a year ago at this time.

You brought in three transfers from other BCS programs last year. Can you tell me about each of them?


SH: I'm really excited, and I'll start with the running backs. When we came in here a year ago, all of a sudden [Mike] Ford and [Jamar] Taylor were dismissed from the team. You start looking ahead and say Mo Plancher is going to graduate, and we're going to have a hole at the running back position. So we brought in some transfers in Darrell Scott from Colorado and Dontae Aycock from Auburn, and I think they're both very very talented players who are working extremely hard. They were both very impressive on the scout team with their attitudes and their work habits.

Darrell Scott came in about 240 [pounds]; he's down to about 226 and looks great. I think both of them are definitely going to be guys who make an immediate impact, and that's why we didn't sign a lot of junior college guys -- there was only one junior college player in our class. I think guys like Aycock and Scott are going to make a huge difference. And then a young man who transferred from Notre Dame, Spencer Boyd, is going to bring some depth to us in the secondary, where we graduated Mistral Raymond. He's a great athlete, and he's going to have an opportunity to come in and compete for time.

You had a good running game but not a lot of explosive gains there last season. How much can the new guys help that?


SH: We didn't have a lot of big plays there, you're right. Both Dontae Aycock and Darrell Scott are bigger running backs. Mo Plancher was about 200, Demetrius Murray was about 200 pounds, where Darrell Scott is 226 and Dontae Aycock is about 230. I think they're bigger, stronger running backs who are going to be able to break more tackles maybe than we have in the past, and when I watch those two guys run, they've shown me some big-play potential. So I'm really excited to see how they develop and mature as we go through spring practice and fall camp.

How are receivers A.J. Love and Sterling Griffin coming along from the injuries that kept them out all of last season?


SH: Well, it's nice to have them both back. A year ago we had four players returning with any type of experience at receiver, and Carlton Mitchell left early for the NFL before we got here. All of a sudden A.J. Love gets injured in the spring game, and Sterling Griffin gets injured in the summer. Dontavia Bogan had a great year for us, and what happened was a lot of these young guys got a chance to get experience last year. And then when you add A.J. Love and Sterling Griffin back to the mix, I think we'll be much deeper there. Plus, I'm excited about a couple of young signees we have that are coming into the program this season. But I think we'll be much deeper at that position, we'll be more experienced and we'll have more playmakers than we had a year ago.

Did it feel like, offensively, you were playing with one arm tied behind your back at times last year?


SH: It really did, with our limited big-play potential in the running game and how inexperienced we were at the receiver position. But Evan Landi came on and gained some great experience. Terrence Mitchell converted over to wide receiver halfway through the year and made an impact. Steven Bravo-Brown got better, Joel Miller had a great game against Miami. And with those guys gaining that kind of experience and then being able to throw A.J. Love and Sterling Griffin in there, it may be one of the most experienced positions on our football team.

[+] EnlargeTerrell McClain
Kim Klement/US PresswireSouth Florida's departing defensive tackle Terrell McClain leaves big shoes to fill this coming season.
Defensively, it seems like Terrell McClain will be the hardest guy to replace. I know Bruce Feldman had some nice words about Todd Chandler the other day. How do you see the defense being able to replace McClain?


SH: It's hard to replace a guy like Terrell McClain as a senior, whom they're talking about as a possible first-day draft pick, with a redshirt freshman. Keith McCaskill was solid for us last year and he's going to have to play more for us. Cory Grissom is going to be a year older as a starting nose guard. We're going to have to get a little more out of him. Anthony Hill is a guy who played a limited role for us a year ago that's going to be a junior; both him and Luke Sager, I expect more out of them. And then you hope Todd Chandler continues to mature into that position. And then there's a signee like Elkino Watson, who came in with an awful lot of accolades and is a talented player.

There are an awful lot of players there, and I don't think we're going to ask just one player to pick up that slack, that hole in the bucket left by Terrell McClain. We're going to ask a number of players to step their game up and fulfill that void.

Your season opener this year is at Notre Dame. How much does that help motivate everybody this offseason?


SH: I think it's huge as a far as a motivational factor. I remember being at Notre Dame, and we used to open with Michigan every year, when I was at East Carolina, we opened with Virginia Tech. And what that does for your players' focus as they go into winter workouts and spring practice and summer conditioning and fall camp, it just keeps their focus maintained with what's on the horizon. Having the opportunity to play Notre Dame as a young football program like we are, I think it creates an awful lot of excitement in our program, and it's something I know the players are looking forward to.

Have you talked much with your dad about that game yet?


SH: No, not enough yet. We'll get into that more as we get into summer breakdown. Right now, as we started winter workouts and are getting into out new practice facility, we're just trying to see where our players are and what we can do. Every team has a life expectancy of one year, and this time of year you start to put the pieces together. We're working on our own strengths and weaknesses before we start looking at our opponent and what they can do.

But I know they finished the season with wins at Southern Cal and a lopsided win against Miami. So I know it's going to be a great challenge, it's going to be a tall order. But it's going to be something as a young program that our players and fans are really looking forward to. It's going to be interesting to see what colors Dr. Lou is wearing that Saturday.

The team is drawing some offseason buzz because of how you finished. How do you address that, if at all, with the players?


SH: I think it's a huge compliment to what this team has accomplished and a huge compliment to this program for what we've been able to accomplish in such a short period of time. The thing for us is, we've just got to stay focused on the task at hand. You start sitting around reading the newspaper articles and drinking the Kool-aid and start believing what everybody starts writing about you, your focus isn't where it needs to be as far as getting a team ready, getting it focused and getting ready for a season. I think it's nice to be able to have that type of exposure for our program, for our fan base and for our players, that they've earned and deserved.

But I think there are two aspects of building a program: I think you have to start by learning how to win, and then once you learn how to win as we started to do toward the end of last season, I think there's a whole another process that goes into being able to handle winning. That becomes maintaining your focus and not getting sidetracked by the circus of college football that goes with the media exposure and everything else.

I suppose that's a nice problem to have.


SH: I'd much rather be here than still trying to learn how to win.

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