As promised yesterday in the Lou Holth interview piece, we conclude our regular season feature with a Q&A with the USF Blog VoodooFive. The Bulls got off to a hot start this year, beating Notre Dame in South Bend to start the season and opening 4-0 before getting crushed at Pitt and limping to a 5-6 record going into tonight's game. Obviously, USF needs to beat WVU to become bowl eligible. They're clearly capable of pulling off the feat, ranking among the country's best in sacks and tackles for loss and losing only one game by more than 10 points. On the other hand, injury issues abound (reports last night out of Tampa were that backup Bobby Eveld would start in place of injured starter BJ Daniels) and there could be discontent within the team stemming from the disappointing season. Let's get to the questions:
Country Roads: The major question approaching this week's game is the health of BJ Daniels. What's the latest on his injury, and how much of an effect do you think his presence or absence will have on Thursday's matchup?
Voodoo Five: Daniels is still questionable with an AC joint bruise in his right (throwing) shoulder. He came out for warmups on Friday morning against Louisville, but after Skip Holtz played it out as long as humanly possible, Bobby Eveld took the field and Daniels did not play. B.J. says his ability to play on Thursday is "in God's hands," which makes me personally uncomfortable.
Ironically Daniels' presence helps the running game more than the passing game. USF is much more successful when they can use Daniels in a read-option running set, along with some veer runs and the occasional straight handoff. It all works because Daniels is a running threat. With Eveld in the game, defenses can focus on the running back because they know Eveld isn't going to carry the ball. It's a huge problem if Eveld plays because the passing game is largely built off play-action, hitches, and screens. Daniels makes most of the offense go.
CR: It seems like USF's strength on defense is usually the defensive line. That appears to be the same again this year with the Bulls in the Top 10 in the country in sacks. Pitt was effective in slowing down WVU's offense by stuffing the running game and getting pressure on Geno Smith, but couldn't pull out the win. Do you think USF tries a similar gameplan, and if so, do you think they will have more success than Pitt did?
V5: They pretty much have to, because the secondary is weak and now injury-riddled. If Smith gets time to throw, Holgorsen is going to light these guys up. I really think West Virginia is going to have no trouble moving the ball, and USF will have to try and hold them to field goals instead of giving up touchdowns.
CR: Most people thought when Jim Leavitt was replaced by Skip Holtz, USF would get away from its pattern of late season swoons. Then this season happened. What's the prevailing thought on what causes the hot starts and late-season collapses?
V5: With Leavitt, it was a combination of injuries, bad preparation, and bad coaching. This year, it hasn't been so much injuries as poor in-game decision-making and a breakdown in discipline. This is my least favorite USF football team to watch because they act like an NFL team in the worst sense of the words. Holtz is content to play careful, risk-averse football and manage field position (even though they have a terrible punter), but that means any mistake that anyone makes can cost them the game. And they've run the gamut this year, whether it's wimpy play-calling (UConn), ill-timed penalties and late-game collapses (Rutgers and Cincinnati), or shaky coaching decisions swinging the game (Miami and Louisville). I've lost a lot of my affection for Holtz as a game coach this season.
CR: How are most USF fans looking at this game? It's a chance to become bowl eligible and knock off a ranked team that, frankly, USF has had a lot of success against over the years. But coming at the end of a disappointing season in which the Bulls were picked to finish close to the top of the Big East and ascended into the national rankings after knocking off Notre Dame only to stumble at Pitt and limp to the finish, what kind of effort can we expect from the home team?
V5: I'm not really sure. If USF wins, they're almost certainly playing in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl against either East Carolina or Marshall, which would not excite me one whit. I don't know how much it would inspire the players, either. There are some rumors of dissension among the players as the losses have piled up (not surprising since the last five losses have been by 6, 3, 3, 3, and 10 points). And of course there's the deep background rumor of Skip Holtz and the North Carolina job. Throw in that I think West Virginia is the better team, and nothing would really surprise me on Thursday night.
CR: I have to ask about conference realignment. You guys have to be rooting for the continued success of the Big East, but you're still nervous, right?
V5: Oh, absolutely. Our football team has tanked, basketball hasn't been truly good in 20 years, baseball stinks, morale is spectacularly low, and the fans are totally fed up. If the Big East loses its AQ status, Doug Woolard (our athletic director) has no one to point the finger at except himself. His teams don't accomplish anything on the field. He refuses to admit his mistakes, which bears out when he refuses to replace underperforming coaches in sports USF should be good at, like baseball and volleyball. And did you notice how USF didn't say ANYTHING while the conference realignment carousel was spinning? They weren't even in any of the rumors. Then when Louisville thought they were getting into the Big XII and then West Virginia aced them out, Jurich and his people went absolutely berserk. It didn't work, but they tried something. They made a fuss. They CARED. I'm not convinced Doug Woolard really cares.
Then again, I was thinking about this earlier today and realized that if AQ bids are going away, the Big East should just stop sponsoring football and find homes for the five of us who are left. This expansion folly is embarrassing. And deep down I think John Marinatto wants to run a basketball league.
CR: Latest odds show WVU as a 1-point favorite and the over/under at 55. Make your bet.
V5: Bet the house on West Virginia and the one point. In fact, as the proprietor of the Protect Your Unit game, I think I will do this. USF never wins on Thursday nights, and the Mountaineers have the clear motivation edge. Over/unders are Satan's handiwork and I will not touch that one.