Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 19, 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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32 SEPT. 19, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY PATRICK ENGEL J eff Scott understood he could be selective. Picky, even. As long as he was a key cog in sustaining a dominant Clemson offense, head coaching overtures would flow in each December. He could wait for one he wanted, one with obvious ad- vantages that can foster a fast path to winning. Coaching at his alma mater is a fine situation, after all. After five years as Clemson's co- offensive coordi- nator and 12 serv- ing under Dabo Swinney, Scott fi- nally jumped at a job that checks the boxes. It has recent success. It's in his home state. The recruiting base is lush. It's an attractive destination for bounce-back Power Five transfers who are from Florida. Swinney even encouraged him to take it. But first, the program needs a hard reset. South Florida hired the 39-year-old Scott in December as its head coach, replacing former Notre Dame assis- tant Charlie Strong, who was fired after amassing a 21-16 record in three seasons. Since Oct. 27, 2018, though, the Bulls went 4-14, including a 4-8 mark last year. "This is not a broken program," Scott said at his introduction. "There is a very solid foundation here." USF is only three years removed from consecutive 10-win seasons, but expecting a jump back to that level in Scott's debut season is a reach. Its American Athletic Conference sched- ule includes most of the league's powers. The trip to Notre Dame was a last-minute addition that created an even more challenging short-term path to a winning season. The 2019 season was a cratering. Moving the ball and scoring points were an exercise in futility. USF is 78th in the preseason SP+ rankings, ahead of one other AAC team, Tulsa. As if that wasn't enough, Scott had one non-contact spring practice before sports shut down in March, delaying the on-field start to his cleanup project. Everyone in college football is suffering from the pan- demic, but commencing a rebuild and a head coaching career in these times is particularly demanding. "If you're playing baseball, you're in the on-deck circle, you put the weight on the bat and you're swinging that heavy bat, so when you get up there in the batter's box, you're swinging a light bat," Scott told reporters ahead of USF's opener against The Citadel. "This year, potentially into next year, we're swinging a heavy bat. But it's going to pay off for us down the road, and things will get easier as we get a handle with COVID." Scott is referring to the COVID-19 constraints, but his analogy fits for the short- and long-term view for USF's performance under his watch. USF's ceiling for year-one improve- ment rests on how far it can distance itself from last season's offensive mal- adies. Little went well. The Bulls were 109th in yards per play, 117th in the Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) and 115th in scoring. They ranked 120th in percentage of drives that gained zero or negative yardage (16.2 per- cent). Just three teams had a worse sack rate. No individual player had more than 350 receiving yards. Scott hired Charlie Weis Jr. — yes, Charlie Weis' son — as offensive co- ordinator. Weis Jr., 27, spent the last two seasons in the same role at Flor- ida Atlantic under Lane Kiffin and remains the youngest coordinator in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Under Weis Jr.'s direction last year, the Owls had a top-15 scoring of- fense, ranked eighth in plays of 20- plus yards and finished 26th in points per drive. They were explosive, and by and large efficient. USF may not be either of those right way, but Weis Jr. is set on playing with the same break- neck tempo that will contrast former coordinator Kerwin Bell's slower, pro-style design. "Both had ex- plosive playbooks, but this [offense] is a mixture between a Clemson-Ala- bama, Lane Kiffin-type of offense," sophomore quarterback Jordan Mc- Cloud told reporters in August. "Coach Bell was more a pro-style type of deal. This is like, go fast, we're trying to score every play, tempo, lots of plays throughout the game." Added Weis Jr.: "Coach Scott and I spent a lot of time together going through both of our systems, taking the things we did best at FAU and the things they did best at Clemson, and molding that together." The personnel picture is now clear, too. McCloud ended last year as the starting quarterback and beat out North Carolina transfer Cade Fortin in camp to earn the job this season. He completed 55 percent of his passes, averaged 6.4 yards per attempt and threw 12 touchdowns in 10 starts. The rushing attack has some in- trigue. The top running back is Kel- ley Joiner Jr., who averaged 5.1 yards per rush on 79 carries last year. He's joined by fellow sophomore Johnny Ford, a 787-yard rusher in 2018 who averaged 6.8 yards per carry. Dis- ciplinary reasons kept Ford out for GAME PREVIEW: SOUTH FLORIDA Hard reset The Bulls have encouraging new leadership, but the transition becomes harder with all of this year's COVID-19 constraints Sophomore Kelley Joiner Jr. rushed 71 times for 364 yards last year and is the Bulls' top return- ing ground gainer. PHOTO COURTESY SOUTH FLORIDA "THIS IS LIKE, GO FAST, WE'RE TRYING TO SCORE EVERY PLAY, TEMPO, LOTS OF PLAYS THROUGHOUT THE GAME." USF SOPHOMORE QUARTERBACK JORDAN MCCLOUD ON THE MINDSET OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR CHARLIE WEIS JR. IS PUSHING

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