When USF needs a big play, it puts offense in reverse

The Bulls' speedy receivers turn misdirection plays into positive yardage.

Published November 9, 2006

TAMPA - The play call comes in from the sideline, and USF receiver Amarri Jackson can't help but be giddy.

"I always giggle a little bit," Jackson said. "It makes me laugh to see if the guys are going to follow me. I almost always know we're going to get a big play."

If there's one play that's been a signature to USF's offense under coordinator Rod Smith, it's the reverse, a misdirection play that pulls the defense one way, then flips back with speed the other way.

"We like the reverse. It tends to work," said Jackson, who scored twice on reverses last season and set up one to Taurus Johnson in Saturday's 22-12 win against Pittsburgh. "With the talent level we have at receiver, we've got some guys who can make those plays, can make guys miss in open space."

The play, actually a double reverse, was big on the opening drive against Pittsburgh, which hadn't allowed a first-quarter touchdown all season. On second and 9 from Pittsburgh's 22-yard line, the Bulls lined up with three receivers to the right and Jackson alone, split on the left side.

Before the snap, Jackson came in motion toward quarterback Matt Grothe, pulling a cornerback with him. When he took the handoff, the entire defense was following him to the right.

"We were watching the replay on tape, and all 11 of their defenders were chasing," Grothe said. "They were not expecting any of that to come. It was a good play call."

Jackson handed off to Johnson, who ran left and arced from the 31 down the sideline, cutting inside to the 15 to avoid one tackler, then beating three others to the end zone for a 7-0 lead.

"The defense sucked down when Amarri came and it left the whole back side wide open," said Johnson, who has rushed for three touchdowns on such plays this season. "Coach thought of it and it worked. I had to make a move, but I got into the end zone."

He has done that at crucial points this season. Trailing 20-7 in the third quarter against Florida International in September, Johnson scored on a reverse to spark a comeback. Last month at North Carolina, his 19-yard score started a run of 20 straight points in a win.

Last year, a pair of Jackson reverses for touchdowns were at the heart of USF's 45-14 upset of then-No. 9 Louisville.

Saturday's was a well-executed play, with all five offensive linemen pulling right along with running back Ricky Ponton to sell the defense in the wrong direction.

The line moved quickly enough that the last defender, a safety, was blocked out by center Nick Capogna, 20 yards downfield.

Smith isn't allowed to speak to the media, and coach Jim Leavitt was hesitant to publicly discuss the play or shed illumination on its success.

"Why it's worked is we're running where there's not any defenders," Leavitt said Tuesday. "It's been able to work out for us at different times. It's not worked out for us, too. It's a misdirection play you have to have in there. It's been effective sometimes, I guess."

And once the reverse is a known threat, you can create twists on the play, tricks on the trick. Jackson, who played quarterback in high school, is well-suited for such a ploy and has completed two pass attempts this season, both to the 1-yard line. Last year he connected on his only pass for an 11-yard touchdown against Louisville.

Botched reverses cost the Bulls last year, with losses of 11 and 14 yards, but in 14 carries this season, USF's receivers have been dropped for a loss just once, and for only 2 yards.

"We know that every time we do it, if we execute," Johnson said, "it's either a touchdown or a big play for us."

Greg Auman can be reached at (813) 226-3346 or auman@sptimes.com Check his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/USF.

Tonight: Louisville at Rutgers

Round 2 of the Big East unbeatens, with Louisville, which beat West Virginia last week, at Rutgers at 7:30 on ESPN. Like last week, you decide if the teams are legitimate national title contenders. The nation's unbeatens, Sagarin ranking, average opponent ranking and top-ranked opponent played. Sagarin ranks the 241 I-A and I-AA teams and is used by the BCS.

Team No. Opp. Best opponent

Michigan 1 54.4 Notre Dame (3)

Ohio State 2 59.8 Texas (13)

Louisville 4 61.8 West Virginia 16

Rutgers 12 87.4 Navy (30)

Boise State 11 95.7 Oregon St. (18)