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Q&A with’s Joel Smith

September 25, 2008

I was approached this week by Joel Smith of, a blog dedicated to South Florida and UF athletics, to partake in a Q&A exchange between the two sites. I thought, sure, what the hell!

You can find my responses to his questions here.

He came out firing with some pretty tough posers, so I felt like I needed to step up and take this seriously. Like, you know, asking him questions about the Bulls and what we can expect on Saturday. I didn’t let him off the hook, though, as I did what every good North Carolinian would do and quizzed him on all things North Carolina BBQ.

What follows are his responses.


Here’s a scary thought (for me, at least): In 1997, I was a sophomore in college and South Florida’s football program didn’t exist. Now, just 11 years later, y’all are a top 15 program and the favorite for the Big East’s BCS bowl bid. What’s it been like watching your program progress so rapidly from literally nothing into a contender?

I grew up in Tampa, but grew up a Gator fan because USF football didn’t exist. Their first season was also my first year at UF, so I was too heavily engrossed in all things orange and blue to pay much attention. When I returned to Tampa to attend USF, I figured it was time for me to adopt a second team. Let me be clear, I am first and foremost a Gator, but the Bulls run a close second. Years later, I have a blog dedicated to both schools and I’m a USF season ticket holder.

You’ll hear a lot from people about how USF’s rise was expected and how they always knew the Bulls would be good, but…no pun intended…that’s a bunch of bull. How can anyone not be surprised? You never know how a new program will perform and if they’ll ever rise to national prominence. USF is obviously in a great recruit-producing state, but so is UCF and they haven’t experienced the same success despite being around a lot longer. At the same time, the big time recruits still go elsewhere. The Bulls have been able to get 110% out of the kids they do bring in and the results are now coming out. Look at it this way: the program has only had 2 losing seasons. That’s remarkable in my opinion.

I’m still waiting for the first conference title and that first 10-win season. We could see both this year.

You asked me about Tom O’Brien’s quote that has stirred up a lot of attention leading into the game, so I’ll ask you about it in return: How has it been received in Bulls Country, and what impact do you think it will have on the outcome of the game?

People are furious. I mostly just think it’s funny.

Let’s be realistic for a moment. Apparently other coaches came to USF to ask how to stop the spread offense because the Bulls had done so well against West Virginia the last couple of years. But I have to ask, does WVU run a true spread? Urban Meyer is thought of as one of the masterminds of the spread you currently find throughout the nation and West Virginia’s offense looks very different than the ones he used at Utah and now Florida. The true spread seems to involve passing the ball much more than WVU ever has. So should a coach seek out advice from USF as to how to stop it? Probably not.

As for O’Brien’s comments, people aren’t happy. USF’s defensive coordinator Wally Burnham has already responded, giving both teams bulletin board material and I’m sure both fan bases may believe these comments mean the teams will play that much harder. I have always completely disagreed. If a college football program need its opponents to talk trash before the game in order to get motivated, then there’s a much bigger problem. This is big time college football. These players should be ready to go at 100 miles per hour for every game and every situation.

Take the Florida/Miami game as an example. UF receiver Louis Murphy made some comments about Miami not being the U in his mind. Miami fans got all upset and said he better watch out because Cane defenders were now out to get him. Were they? They didn’t do anything to him. They just played their game. He didn’t have a great game until late, but that’s mostly because he played poorly and dropped a few passes. Not because the Miami players were out to get him and were harassing him on every play.

I have never believed things like this have any outcome on the game at all.

Matt Grothe’s ability to make plays with his feet as well as his arm has obviously given opposing teams a lot of fits. If you were scheming a defense to shut him down, how would you do it?

QB spy.

People compare Matt Grothe to Tim Tebow a lot down here. The big difference though is size. Put a linebacker on Tebow at all times and you still don’t have the greatest chance of stopping him. Tebow is just as big as most of them and has the power to run them over. Grothe doesn’t. Not that Grothe doesn’t have a little fight in him, but going head-to-head, I’m going to take the linebacker 99 times out of 100. So, it’s probably a good idea to have someone keep an eye on Grothe when he’s in the shotgun. Make sure at least part of the field is contained so you can force him to run a certain way. Not the other way around.

The biggest issue for defenses is play length. The longer the play takes to develop, the more likely Grothe will kill you on the ground. Few college linebackers are disciplined to spy/contain for too long. Eventually someone else coming out of the backfield can distract them or they will drop contain to try to make a big play. This is where Grothe can thrive. If someone is spying him, they need to stay home regardless of the temptation to do something else. Grothe’s biggest plays are when the defense eventually breaks down and he makes some improvised run or crazy throw to a suddenly wide open receiver.

It sounds like the injury bug has bitten the Bulls defense of late. What’s the latest you can tell me about the status of Bruce Mompremier and George Selvie, and what impacts will their injuries have on the game?

At this point, it seems like USF is most worried about Mompremier the person and not Mompremier the football player. He seems to be doing fine and actually made an appearance at practice on Tuesday without a neck brace. The Bulls have said he is definitely out for at least the next two games, but other reports say getting him back on the field isn’t the concern just yet. As for replacing him, I’m not really worried. Not to say he wasn’t a contributor, but USF has always had good play out of its linebackers and has a number of guys ready to step up. It seems like the defense has gone to a 4-2-5 as of late, so we could see middle linebacker Kion Wilson move into the spot, although it’s more likely one of the backups will step up. Mompremier will be missed, but there are a number of players behind him with big game experience as well who will be ready to step in.

Selvie should be good to go. He was held out of practice up until this point, but he’s expected back for the second half of the week. If needed he probably could’ve gone, but the Bulls are playing it safe and only using him when they really need him until they are sure he’s completely back to 100%.

How do you see this game shaking out, quarter by quarter?

Given the last 3 USF games, it could honestly be 10-0 after 1, 17-7 after 2, and 27-7 USF after 3, but 27-21 when the final whistle sounds.

It’s hard to read the Bulls so far this year. They were up 24-10 against UCF entering the fourth (final score: 31-24 in overtime), down 20-3 at one point in the first half against Kansas but up 14 early in the fourth (final score: 37-34), and up 17-0 with 2:20 left against FIU (final score: 17-9). The fourth quarter has been a big turning point in all of those games and not necessarily in USF’s favor even if they did end up winning. I want to believe against FIU they learned their lesson. A game is 60 full minutes and you have to play hard until the very end. Given what we’ve seen, my prediction in the first sentence might not be that far off. But if the Bulls can finally keep up the pressure for an entire game – and remember it was NC State who blanked USF in its first bowl appearance – they should be able to keep this one from getting too close for comfort late in the game. Sorry Wolfpack fans, but with the loss of Wilson and Irving, I just don’t think you can stay in it for the entire contest. Of course, if the Bulls forget to play the final 15 minutes, you’ll have me eating my words.

The biggest thing you need to worry about is Harrison Beck’s confidence. If fans and players stay behind him, he could manage the game and keep it interesting. But if he makes mistakes early and has to play from behind for most of the day, it could get ugly. Of course, all you have to do is wait patiently until the final quarter and the Bulls should let you back in the game. UGH!

Finally, have you ever had Eastern North Carolina style barbecue, can you tell the difference between it and Lexington style, and have you now or ever used “barbecue” as a verb?

I failed miserably during my first attempt to have North Carolina barbecue. At a place just outside of Raleigh where you just place your order and don’t ask questions, I chose the chicken platter over the chicken plate. Apparently the platter meant fried and the plate meant barbecue. Luckily my soon-to-be in-laws live up there, so I’ll get another shot at it during the next visit. Hopefully I will redeem myself.

Barbecue is frequently used as a verb down here, but grill seems to be more common. If people are coming over for burgers and hot dogs, we’ll typically say we are going to “grill out.”

So there you have it. We’ll give Joel a pass on his first NC BBQ experience. Lord knows it’s tough enough to find good Eastern NC BBQ here in Raleigh if you’re not familiar with the territory.

This was fun. I think you might see more of these in the future if we can get some willing participants.

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