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UC-USF preview

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When Matt Grothe was lost for the season after tearing his ACL in a September game against Charleston Southern, the common thought was that the Bulls were in deep trouble.


Without that senior, experienced, multi-faceted quarterback running around and creating havoc, it was easy to figure that USF was going to struggle for the rest of the season. Especially with a redshirt freshman as Grothe's backup

 

That has not happened, thanks in large part to that rookie, quarterback B.J. Daniels, who has helped lead the Bulls to a 5-0 record and a No. 21 ranking. Daniels is not Grothe, mind you - at least, not yet. But he's been pretty good in his own right, and he'll provide a major challenge for the Bearcats defense when the two teams meet tonight at 7:45 at Raymond James Stadium.


"He's done an extraordinary job in a very short period of time," Brian Kelly said. "Their coaches on the offensive side of the ball have done a very good job of adapting his skills to the offense instead of saying, 'You have to run what we ran with Matt.'"


Said Bearcats senior defensive end Ricardo Matthews: "He's elusive, he can make you miss, and he's quick. Nothing bad to say about him. We just have to execute the defense and stop him. We have to execute close to perfect to do that. He's not Matt Grothe, but they're finding out they can win without him."

 

One of the biggest problems UC will face tonight is Daniels' ability to make the big play (he's had five 40-plus yard gains this year). He's also the team's leading rusher with 291 yards on 48 carries (a 6.1 average), and though he's not yet the passer Grothe is, he's still thrown six touchdowns against only two interceptions. He's probably more dangerous as a runner, but he can beat you with the pass as well.


"Here's the question," BK said. "When you have an athletic running quarterback, do you stop the run? If you stop the run, then you're one on one on the outside (with your cornerbacks against the opponent's receivers). If you play pass, you give him the opportunity to run the football. We have to pick our spots. We have to be able to stop the run and sometimes we have to double up on their receivers. When you play a quarterback of this ability, that's the difficulty."

 

Daniels, though, isn't the scariest player for USF. Those honors belong to the Bulls defensive ends - senior George Selvie and junior Jason Pierre-Paul. Selvie has been the best end in the conference the past three years, while the athletic Pierre-Paul has an 81-inch wing span and can turn a backflip in full pads.


The problem for the Bearcats it that they can't double-team both ends at the same time. That means either tackle Jeff Linkenbach or tackle Sam Griffin will have to spend some of their time tonight trying to play Selvie and/or Pierre-Paul one-on-one to keep them off Tony Pike.


It won't be easy, even for an offensive line that has kept Pike clean for most of the season.

 

"We've only given up three sacks all year," BK said. "That's pretty good for a spread offense that throws it as much as we do. We have to have answers if we're getting too much pressure from their ends. We move the pockets, we screen, we do so many things we hope that slows down their pass rush. We play tempo football. We have to have answers, and we do if we need it."

 

  • The Bearcats, as you know, are 3-0 on the road with victories vs. Rutgers (47-15), Oregon State (28-18) and Miami (37-13). Why do the Bearcats have so much success when they're playing away from home?

 

"It's the way the guys lock in during that week of practice," Pike said. "We understand it's going to be hostile and we're going to face some adversity. You're not going to go on the road any time and things are going to go the way you want them to. They're going to make some big plays or we're going to make some bad plays. The biggest thing about this team is we react so well to what happens to us."

 

  • Mardy Gilyard's home town is about three hours away from Tampa, so he expects many friends and family to be in attendance at tonight's game.

 

"The Gilyard gang," he said, "is going to be in the house with full effect."

 

He also looks forward to facing USF senior linebacker Chris Robinson, a former teammate at Flagler Palm Coast High School in Bunnell, Fla.

 

"I've been calling him for two weeks," Gilyard said. "He hasn't picked up his phone, probably because he thinks I'm going to talk junk to him. I call him every year about the same time, talk junk to him for 10 minutes, and he hangs up on me."

 

  • My prediction: At this point, it's almost silly to pick against the Bearcats. With the way Pike and the offense has played, the way the defense has come up big when it's been needed the most, the way the coaching staff has put together the weekly game plan, I think, once again, UC will come through with a win in its toughest game of the season.

 

Say, UC 28, USF 24.

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