USF must go on without Griffin again

USF receiver Sterling Griffin has every right to curse the football gods after a rotten string of bad luck has ended his season prematurely.


But Griffin is not the type to throw pity parties. His season may be over, but it is just beginning for his teammates, who were back out on the practice field Monday preparing for their Big East opener against Rutgers -- some 30 hours after landing home from Nevada.

So Griffin stood on the sideline on crutches, serving as a de facto coach, doing whatever he needed to do to get his fellow receivers ready to face the best secondary in the Big East.

"I feel real bad for him, as hard as he’s worked to get back from an ankle injury and now to deal with an ACL injury," quarterback B.J. Daniels said in a phone interview Monday. "He’s a very determined guy. Even today on the practice field, on his crutches, knowing he’s out for the season, he was still out there for us, still a vocal leader."

Griffin has not been able to catch a break injury-wise since he arrived in Tampa. He redshirted in 2010 because of a broken ankle. Last season started with tremendous promise, as he had 493 yards through the first seven games of the season to rank No. 4 in the league in receiving yards per game and receptions per game. But he broke his foot against Cincinnati and missed four games, returning in time for the finale against West Virginia.

His return this season, though, was highly anticipated. For one, he is the veteran of this group. For another, some very young players got an opportunity to play last season in his absence. They would be another year older, and USF would have one of the deepest receiver groups in the Big East.

Now we get to see how truly deep this group is without its leader. All eyes turn to Andre Davis, one of the youngsters who benefited the most with Griffin on the sideline a year ago. You saw his amazing potential on full display in the riveting come-from-behind win over Nevada.

Davis set a school record with 191 yards -- the most of any FBS player in Week 2 -- and his 56-yard touchdown reception with 38 seconds to go made the difference in the game. Davis and Griffin play the same receiver position, so watch out for more games like this to come.

"This second game he really came into his own and unfortunately with Sterling down with the injury he had to step up," Daniels said. He had to play more plays, and he did a good job."

Davis already has shown his ability to stretch the field, and so has Chris Dunkley, another player USF will have to rely on with Griffin out. Derrick Hopkins, Terrence Mitchell and D'Vario Montgomery have speed in spades as well. Add in Deonte Welch and Victor Marc, and there are plenty of options.

The big question is whether USF can continue to build on its impressive pass game performance against Nevada, which came after Griffin got hurt. Consider last season, USF had only one completion that went over 50 yards in an FBS game. Against Nevada, USF had three 50-yard touchdown passes. Getting much bigger plays from the receivers has been a huge point of emphasis this offseason.

"Last year, we made a big jump offensively in our numbers but to add the deep ball to our arsenal now and be consistent with it gives us an opportunity to stretch the defense and it makes it a lot easier for us," Daniels said. "Teams have to cover the entire field, horizontal and vertical. As long as I give them the opportunity to go get the ball and keep it in bounds, with the type of speed and athleticism they have, more than likely they’ll come down with it."

The opportunities certainly will be there for them, with their leader watching from the sideline.