(In addition to sponsoring this post, Fifth Third Bank has sponsored USF Athletics for several years running, and earlier this year they named their new Fowler Avenue branch after Lee Roy Selmon. So they're pretty cool.)
I've been meaning to write this post for several weeks now. We were asked to write about two key players on our football team this season, one on each side of the ball. But to me, the two key players for the 2012 USF football team are on each side of the press box, and they each have something to prove.
NOTE: For this post, I had to work out the red zone TD% stats and rankings and the defensive YPG rankings myself. Hopefully they are accurate, but if they're off it's only by a little bit.
OFFENSIVE KEY PLAYER: TODD FITCH
Todd Fitch is USF's offensive coordinator. Just on raw numbers alone, he did a nice job last season. The Bulls smashed their school record for average yards per game, rolling up 431.2 per game -- over 120 yards more than in 2010. USF scored over 29 points per game, set new season marks for total first downs (292) and first downs per game (24.3), and improved their third-down conversion rate from 29% in 2010 (the worst in program history) to 40% last year.
So how did this team go 5-7 last year? There were a lot of reasons, but one was how many points they left on the table when they got inside the opponents' 20-yard line. USF made 48 trips to the red zone last year. But they only scored 27 touchdowns. That's a 56.3% conversion rate, which was tied for 85th in FBS. (If you want to see all the raw calculations, click here.)
And if Fitch doesn't trust B.J. Daniels to throw inside the 10-yard line this year, I have to question if he'd ever trust any quarterback to throw the ball. Daniels only threw one touchdown pass of less than 10 yards last season, and it was the somewhat ridiculous touchdown to Evan Landi against Notre Dame where Landi caught a floater with the defender's back turned to the ball. Fitch's unsuccessful goal-line fades have become infamous among USF fans, and the whole country saw his lack of creativity against West Virginia when the Bulls ran six plays inside the WVU 7-yard line in one possession and still didn't score a touchdown.
For a team that lost five games by less than a touchdown last year, even a small improvement in their touchdown rate in the red zone could have made a big difference in the overall record. This is something to keep a close eye on this year.
The other key player this year is after the jump.
DEFENSIVE KEY PLAYER: CHRIS COSH
Chris Cosh is USF's new defensive coordinator. Cosh took the job in January after Mark Snyder left for Texas A&M. We've heard him talk about how he wants to have an aggressive defense. And we also know that the talk doesn't line up with what he did at Kansas State, his last coaching stop. (The last six defenses Cosh has coordinated, including three years at Maryland before the last three years in Manhattan, ranked 73rd, 106th, 41st, 59th, 43rd, and 90th in FBS in yards per game.)
While USF may only play one or two games against the type of potent offenses that Cosh constantly went up against in the Big XII, our scouting report on him lines up well with the Bulls' defensive personnel. Let a strong front seven take care of the run, but sit the shaky secondary back in zone coverage and give up the short passes to try and prevent the long ones. Adding to the concern is that Skip Holtz seems OK with "make them snap it again" as a valid defensive game plan. It may have somehow worked at Notre Dame when they got outgained by a 2-to-1 margin, but it's a pretty low-percentage play.
We should note that "aggressive" and "good" don't always go together. You can be aggressive and blitz a lot and gamble in coverage, and then you don't get home and your DBs are hung out to try and they get beat. There need to be some fundamentals to go along with that aggression. But our question is, even when selling out on defense is the right move, will it happen?