Monday, October 5, 2009

On Location: USF 34, Syracuse 20


First quarter:
The start of the game resembled something out of a pee wee football league—five turnovers in the first four minutes. The game of hot potato was sparked when USF defensive tackle Terrell McClain forced a fumble by Syracuse running back Delone Carter on the third play of the game. Just moments later, on South Florida’s first play from scrimmage, quarterback B.J. Daniels mishandled a snap that was recovered by Syracuse defensive tackle Arthur Jones to give the Orange possession right back. Just four plays after that, safety Nate Allen stepped in front of a Greg Paulus pass for an interception. Remarkably, the two teams would exchange possessions once more—on back-to-back plays Syracuse and South Florida would turn the ball over by way of a fumble. It was South Florida that finally ended the turnover trend by capping off an eight-play, 62-yard drive with a Mike Ford 26-yard touchdown run for the first score of the game. Syracuse would also get on the board before the opening quarter was complete, as a 54-yard reception by senior wide receiver Mike Williams set up an a 40-yard field goal by Ryan Lichtenstein.
Score: South Florida 7, Syracuse 3

Second quarter: The Orange started off strong in the second quarter, particularly Paulus. Behind some good play-calling and solid blocking, Syracuse took advantage of South Florida’s aggressiveness, running two quarterback draws for first downs, as well as a key third-down conversion on a screen pass. They also got other receivers into the mix as sophomore Marcus Sales and freshman Alec Lemon each made a grab. Unfortunately for Syracuse, they stalled and settled for their second field goal of the game. With neither team doing much on the ground, Syracuse took to the air…and Paulus threw his second interception. Deep in his own territory, the former Duke basketball player overthrew his intended target by about five yards, floating the pass right into the hands of USF’s senior cornerback Jerome Murphy. It didn’t take long for the Bulls to capitalize, as two plays later Daniels eluded a gang of blitzers and found Carlton Mitchell wide open in the middle of the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown. Syracuse did regain some momentum right before the half. While it appeared South Florida was trying to just run out the clock, a fumble forced by the hard hit of linebacker Derrell Smith put the ‘Cuse back in business. A double-teamed Williams was able to jump over a pair of South Florida defenders to nab his seventh catch of the half in the corner of the end zone for the Orange’s first touchdown of the day.
Score: South Florida 14, Syracuse 13

Third quarter: South Florida didn’t waste any time coming out of the locker room. On the first play of the third quarter, Daniels connected for the second time with Mitchell for a score, this time from 85 yards out. On the ensuing drive, Syracuse took the ball all the way to the South Florida 21-yard line. However, the Orange were still searching for a running game. As a result, Paulus was forced to convert one too many third and long situations, and he was intercepted by freshman cornerback Kayvon Webster. The South Florida defensive line, led by ends George Selvie and Craig Marshall, were pressuring the Syracuse signal caller all quarter—these were not unforced errors. After Ford’s second rushing touchdown, another Bulls’ defensive lineman made a big play. As a gang of would-be tacklers took down Paulus, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul intercepted a batted pass and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown. It was the final nail in the coffin for Syracuse.
Score: South Florida 34, Syracuse 13

Fourth quarter: Syracuse added one more touchdown before the final whistle to make the score respectable. Once again, it was Williams making an incredible catch in the end zone, this time going across the middle in heavy traffic. On the play, Paulus was pressured as he was all day, escaping the pass rush before finding his go-to target. South Florida did their best to milk the clock and hang onto their lead.
Final Score: South Florida 34, Syracuse 20

The Turning Point: The third quarter featured several turning points for South Florida, but the big play was the 85-yard touchdown pass from Daniels to Mitchell. With one-on-one coverage, Mitchell was able to escape from Syracuse cornerback and Florida native Kevyn Scott on a go route down the sideline, which Mitchell credits to film work.

“As soon as I took off he turned his hips,” Mitchell said after the game. “He was peeking, so I knew if I turned a certain way I could get him kind of turned around a little bit. Then I just took off. It’s all about film work and knowing how the opponents play.” After making the catch, Mitchell and the rest of the offense celebrated down the field while the rest of the Bulls did the same on the sidelines. “It helped both our defense and our offense. After that, things just starting rolling,” the 6’ 4” wide out said of his tone-setting play.

Final Analysis: South Florida won this game upfront with their dominant defensive line. The unit is deep and athletic, and Syracuse was unable to prevent them from getting into the backfield. They shut down the run when they needed to—the Orange ran for only 75 yards on the ground. In the first half, McClain was breaking through the line so often it was as if he knew the snap count—in addition to the forced fumble, the junior recorded a sack and on a couple of other occasions, he forced Paulus to hurry his throws. Sophomore tackle Keith McCaskill recorded a sack from his inside position, while Marshall was in the mix too, hurrying Paulus on more than one occasion. Selvie, the two-time All-American, makes his teammates better just being on the field with all of the attention he receives. The junior Marshall recognizes the advantage of having such a deep unit.

“Everybody has something that they can do at certain times in the game,” Marshall said of the line’s depth. “Also, it’s good to be able to rotate people and make sure the next person is going to play with the same amount of energy all game long.” South Florida did what they do best; the defense was aggressive and capitalized on their edge in athleticism by forcing turnovers. They forced seven of them in all, including five interceptions. Allen had two and led the team with eight tackles. The defense had Paulus on his heels for 60 minutes, which was the game plan according to Marshall, “Coach told us they have a big offensive line, so we have to use our athletic ability. We tried to use our speed to our advantage. We wanted to have Paulus run and see what he was all about.”

Paulus never backed down. He took chances and gave his receivers chances to make plays, often resulting in big plays for the Orange…as well as the Bulls. More than once, he threw the ball up for grabs when he should have taken a sack or better yet, found the stands with the pigskin. But that’s how Paulus plays and for this season, headman Doug Marrone appears willing to take the bad with the good.

The beneficiary of Paulus’ gunslinger mentality was Williams, who turned in an All-American caliber performance. His two touchdown catches were highlight-reel worthy and he was consistent throughout the game. He finished the contest with 186 yards on 13 catches, but it wasn’t just big plays—Williams came through on third downs and displayed the ability to make plays after the catch. Williams is quietly becoming a star wide out in the league; unfortunately for the home crowd, his 23rd game in a row with a catch didn’t come with a victory.

Instead, Daniels won his second start, throwing for 208 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. In addition to his cannon arm and athletic ability running the football, the freshman played wise beyond his years, something which was no accident.

“Coach [Jim Leavitt] always told me a good quarterback focuses on not making mistakes,” Daniels said afterwards. “It’s not just making all the big plays. It’s doing the little things and doing the smart things.”

Mitchell caught both of Daniels’ touchdown passes and finished the game with six catches for 189 yards. After a bye week, South Florida will look to remain unblemished as they take on the highly-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats in a battle of undefeateds.

Photos Courtesy of USF Athletics Communications, Syracuse University Athletics