Running with the Bulls: Q&A Session with Voodoo Five

Voodoo 5 from the USF blog, Voodoo Five, was kind enough to do a question and answer exchange this week with us.  Despite some vitriol towards the funniest kicker (and one of the best) in WVU history, he was very accommodating.  My responses to his questions can be seen over at Voodoo Five (direct link).

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TSM:  How would you compare/contrast Jim Leavitt to Skip Holtz (other than intensity) and how is the fan base taking to Holtz (supporting or turning against at this point)?

V5:  I think Skip and his staff are more adaptable to the game in front of them. One thing you noticed in conference play the last few years with Leavitt is that there weren't too many adjustments, or different attacks for different opponents. They did what they did, and if you could stop them or exploit them, congratulations, you win. This year you're seeing specific game plans for specific opponents that make logical sense. Granted the execution hasn't been very good at times, but they are at least being set up to succeed.

After losing to Syracuse, I think some reality is setting in for our fans -- this team lost a lot of talent after last season, and even with what I would consider better coaching, there's only so much of that you can overcome. We might not go bowling this year, which is a tough pill to swallow, but the fans are pretty accepting of the fact that Holtz needs some time to get things set up the way he wants them. Losses are much less of a freak out than they were last year -- if USF has lost to Syracuse last year, the fan base would have reacted like a Paul Finebaum caller.

TSM:  Since WVU started playing USF, it seems like the QB at USF (Grothe and now Daniels) has been the leading rusher year in and year out, ie, USF lacks a consistent ground gainer at tailback.  Does this trend look to continue or is there someone the USF staff and fan base is excited about coming up through the program?

V5:  It probably won't make it through this season because the two main running backs, Mo Plancher and Demetris Murray, are getting the great majority of the carries and rushing yards.  The coaches don't want Daniels running the ball 20 times a game like he did last season, and with him struggling so much to throw the ball (see next question) that's going to lead to a heavier reliance on our running game.

 

TSM:  Speaking of Daniels, how is his progression (or lack thereof) coming along?

V5:  He is really struggling to adapt to the new offense, which has many more pro-style elements in it.  Daniels especially has problems when plays are called from under center, and I think he's not reading defenses well.  Last week he missed two wide-open receivers for touchdowns so he could throw a couple of arm punts.  One was intercepted in the end zone, the other overshot his intended (and well-covered) receiver by 10 yards.  We talked about this on our podcast last night -- Daniels was recruited to be a spread quarterback and now he's being asked to run a more conventional offense.  At the least, there will be growing pains; at worst, he won't fit the offense and he'll either be ineffective or he'll be replaced.  Both Holtz and Todd Fitch (the offensive coordinator) denied that Daniels is a square peg in a round hole, but it's hard to dismiss the notion.  Either way, we're stuck with him this year because both of his backups are true freshmen.

 

TSM:  USF has always seemed to have the kind of fast defense that has given WVU's version of the spread absolute fits.  How does this year's defense compare to recent years past?  Is there anybody in particular making noise on that side of the ball?

V5:  The defense is more or less the same as it always has been.  Lots of speed, good pass defense, a quick front four that can rush the passer, but overall the unit is kind of vulnerable to power running, which fortunately the Mountaineers don't do too much of.  Syracuse rolled up something like 170 yards rushing and most of it was between the tackles.  Remember the unit did lose five players to the NFL, and Mark Snyder has made some tweaks to the defensive scheme, so some struggles are expected.

Some of the individual standouts so far have been Craig Marshall at defensive end (he had 5 TFL's and 3 sacks against the Orange), cornerback Mistral Raymond (doesn't have the glamor stats but he's having a good year -- hopefully he'll be able to play after getting banged up last week), and Jon Lejiste (a strong blitzer and hard-hitting safety).  Another key player is Terrell McClain at defensive tackle.  He clogs up the middle and his absence in the second half against the Orange was very noticeable.

 

TSM:  Not to rub salt in a fresh wound (I winced when I saw that score...too many bad memories associated with it for WVU fans too), but what do you think was the largest factor in the loss to Syracuse?

V5:  Well, the struggles in the passing game really cost them.  Even a decent game out of Daniels means a USF win, and maybe a comfortable one.  He was something like 9-for-23 with two picks, and they were both just horrible.  Even some of his completions were scary, like the ball he floated out to fullback Richard Kelly for a big gain in the third quarter.  I kept waiting for a Syracuse safety to come flying into the picture from the opposite direction and take it to the house, but it didn't happen.  I suspect every team left on the schedule will start loading the box and blitzing and daring Daniels to beat them like the Orange did.  He's going to have to get a lot better in a hurry in order to do it.  Also, getting our two missing receivers back (Sterling Griffin and A.J. Love) will mean that teams can't take out the passing game with single coverage, which in turn means the safeties will have to stay back in coverage instead of blitzing and walking up to the line to stop the run.

 

TSM:  Predict the outcome and score for Thursday night's game.

V5:  Pretty close to a worst-case scenario for the Bulls, even though they've had success up there (of course winning in 2006, and almost winning two years later in the snow*).  But, coming off a loss to a team they had never lost to, traveling on a short week, playing at night in Morgantown (and it might rain), no time to really iron out the kinks from the last game... I'm really not expecting much.  USF's only hope is to pound the ball at the 3-3-5 and control the clock because I doubt they can put the wheels back on the passing game that quickly.  I don't like predicting scores, so as the founder of the "Protect Your Unit" Game, I'll just say that I expect West Virginia to cover the current 10.5-point spread.  I think USF will have a hard time scoring points.

V5:  * - I didn't find a place to work this in, so here's where I'll profess my undying hatred for Pat McAfee based on that 2008 game.  First, he got one roughing the punter call on pure luck when the rusher had both hands around the ball to block it but somehow missed, then ran into him.  Then there was a roughing the punter call in the second half where McAfee literally threw himself on to the back of a USF punt rusher to get the call.  He looked like a stuntman getting hit by a car.  Screw that guy.

 

Thanks to Voodoo 5 for the info.  He's also promised me an explanation Fan-Post of the geography behind their name, which will be shared as soon as it can be posted.  You can see more of their coverage of USF over at Voodoo Five, also home of the "Protect Your Unit" game that I'm participating in.

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