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Saturday Five Keys: USF Spring Game and Open Thread

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Are you ready for some "football"????

USF's spring football game is this afternoon at Raymond James Stadium, beginning at 2:00pm. If you aren't going to the stadium, you can watch the game on GoUSFBulls.com and Bulls Vision, although I'm not clear on whether you have to subscribe to see the game. (I was probably going to do it anyway to see what archived stuff might be useful over the summer.)

Wherever you are, feel free to use this as your spring game open thread in the comments below.

However you watch the game, here are our usual Five Keys, delivered a day late because it didn't dawn on me until now that I could re-use this for the spring game:

1. What are the rules of engagement? Last year's spring game was clearly tilted towards the offense, with no blitzing, no nickel or dime packages, and the refs being whistle-happy because of B.J. Daniels' no-contact status. So while it was fun to watch the passing explosion that resulted, it was useless as an indicator of what would happen in real games. This year should be different simply because it's not the last practice. Skip Holtz told everyone on Wednesday that this spring game is going to be more like a scrimmage, and then next Saturday's Green and Gold Bowl on campus will be more like last year's spring game. 

2. Who's carrying the ball? Adam Adkins has a good article in today's Tribune about the new faces at running back. In his article, Adkins uses a quote from linebacker Michael Lanaris to highlight one thing that's been missing from the USF offense the last few years:

"To be honest with you, I don't know if I've faced a back as big and as powerful as those guys. I haven't seen too many guys that can get up and move at 225, 230 (pounds) like those guys can...  I mean, you can't arm tackle those guys. They're big, powerful backs and they're going to add a lot to our offense. I'm really glad they're on our side."

It's been a long time since the Bulls had a real hammer running back, and knew how to use him. Obviously Mike Ford was miscast in the offenses he played on. Even Andre Hall wasn't quite the same kind of weapon as Darrell Scott or Dontae Aycock, because Hall had more wiggle and determination than just raw, run-you-over power.

Demetris Murray is sitting at the top of the depth chart; still, everyone should be interested to see how Scott and Aycock look when they get their touches. I think Murray will have the starting spot longer than most, but the question is how hard will the other two push him.

3. Who's playing defensive back? Cornerback is a scary position right now, with very little depth listed on the chart (if only because Ricardo Dixon, Tyson Butler, and possibly Spencer Boyd have been injured). Safety Jerrell Young is also sitting out the spring with an injury. It will be good to get a look at players like George Baker and JaQuez Jenkins and Mark Joyce and Ernie Tabuteau. But on the other hand, success against them in April isn't going to translate as well to facing another team's top defenders in the fall.

I'm especially interested to see how they handle play action, because even though Big East teams are pivoting back towards more wide-open offenses, it's still going to be a big key to beating teams like Rutgers, UConn, and Miami. It could also be important in the Notre Dame game if the Irish go back to their run-heavy formula from the end of last season, though that might have been out of necessity than preference.

4. Is there a pass rush? USF's defense was good at preventing points and big plays last year, but they often struggled to get to the quarterback. In the last six games of 2010, all against some pretty rugged offensive lines, the Bulls only totaled nine sacks: four against Pittsburgh, two against Rutgers and Clemson, one against Miami, and none against Louisville or UConn. The USF offensive line is striving to become one of those bruising units that its own defense would have trouble with, so I'll be looking in the trenches on passing downs to figure out where the new balance lies. If the defense can get some pressure without blitzing and without clowning the O-line, that's a good thing.

5. How much has the receiving corps improved? With Sterling Griffin back, Evan Landi more comfortable as a receiver, Deonte Welch joining the rotation, and Joel Miller continuing his progression, hopefully the 2011 team will have a true group of receivers, instead of the "Dontavia Bogan and a bunch of guys" that often crimped the passing game last year.

Todd Fitch was concerned about the receivers' one-on-one abilities when he met with the media after Wednesday's practice. It might be easier to do against an injury-depleted secondary today, but this is vital. The offense needs to replace Bogan, who was able to make plays in those situations, and they need to find someone who can consistently take the pressure off of Bogan's replacement as the #1 receiver and stop defenses from rolling their coverages. That could be Lindsey Lamar (not playing) or A.J. Love (probably not playing) in the fall, but today it might be Landi.