Thanks to Phil Neuffer, the EIC of SBNation’s Down The Drive for this preview. Follow him at @downthedrive or @philneuffer on Twitter. We did one with him we’ll link to here as well.
1. Junior QB, entire offensive line is seniors, tons of veterans.... yet 111th in overall offense. Why?
I think this team is still trying to find its identity and learn Mike Denbrock’s offense. Hayden Moore, the aforementioned junior QB, has never really played consistently well for multiple weeks at a time and he has been bad more than good this season. The offensive line may have experience but it hasn’t done a good job of opening lanes for the running game. Basically, despite having some upper classmen in key spots, there have been too many underwhelming performances, which will outweigh experience every single time.
2. The results obviously aren't showing now, but Fickell seems to be doing a good job of eliminating the stink of Tuberville and implementing his vision for the program. (Plus, they just moved back into first place in the AAC for recruiting). When do you anticipate to see some of that translate into success on the field?
There were some people who thought it would start this season. I was not one of them. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t liked what I’ve seen from Fickell. First, he has won the PR battle. He’s said the right things, taken responsibility when things go wrong and made sure he instilled a belief that he wants to be here, something Tuberville really failed to do in his last two years.
In addition, Fickell’s promise to recruit the state of Ohio more aggressively was clearly more than just empty words. The 2018 recruiting class is filled with local players and good ones at that. With Malik Vann leading the charge, the future looks bright. If this team isn’t back to a bowl game next season and competing for conference titles in two or three, I’d be stunned.
3. This defense: is there any hope? They're conceding 6.8 yards per play against FBS teams, and we know Fickell is a defensive guy. Did Tubs just leave the cupboard that bare, or is this a transition issue? Are any of these guys good enough that USF should run or throw away from them?
It’s more of a transition issue. There’s talent for sure, but there are also key guys from last year missing. Tackling leader Eric Wilson and Mike Tyson both left for the NFL and the secondary is thinner because Alex Thomas was suspended. In addition, Fickell and defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman weren’t exactly inheriting the league’s best defense to begin with. It has been troubling to see this team get ripped apart, especially in the last three weeks, but I credit that more to growing pains rather than a failure by Fickell, defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman and the rest of the staff. It’s too early to go that far.
4. Khalil Lewis: looter in a riot or potential NFL guy that would explode if he didn't have to carry so much of the load at WR?
I’m not really sure what you mean with that first part of the question*. Lewis has a ton of talent and has blossomed into a No. 1 target this season. Unfortunately, the quarterback play has not been great, so his numbers don’t look amazing, but with 31 receptions, 325 yards and four touchdowns, he is at the top of the depth chart and it is not close. It would still be nice to see him get some help, especially from Devin Gray, who was the leading receiver last season.
5. The reverse Skyline Chili question: what’s a food Floridians like that everyone in Ohio thinks is disgusting?
I can’t speak for the state of Ohio but I know I hate oysters. I know that’s not a uniquely Florida thing, but those pools of snot in a half a shell are not for me. With that written, Cuban sandwiches all day.
BONUS: Which Nippert resident is currently more popular - UC football or FC Cincinnati?
Even though they have lost more games than they’ve won, the Bearcats have a lot of support and optimism surrounding them under Fickell. The belief that things will get better is back. This is a totally different question a year ago, but now UC is back to being all about football… until basketball returns.
*A “looter in a riot” is when someone scores because someone has to even if they aren’t that great. The guy that steals stats because they gotta go to somebody. Carry on.