South Florida Preview 2006 - Defense
South Florida Bulls
Posted Aug 1, 2006

South Florida Bulls Preview 2006 - South Florida Defense

What you need to know ... The USF D will be the best in the Big East if the line is merely adequate. This is a fast, fast, fast defense with just enough size to hold up against the stronger power offenses. Stephen Nicholas, Ben Moffitt, and Pat St. Louis form one of the nation's best linebacking corps, while the return of safety Danny Verpaele from a foot injury gives a big boost to an already strong secondary. If Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams don't form the best corner tandem in the Big East, they're a very close number two.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Ben Moffett, 96
Sacks: Stephen Nicholas, 7
Interceptions: Several with 2

Star of the defense: Senior LB Stephen Nicholas
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior DT Tavarious Robinson, Sr.
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Josh Julmiste
Best pro prospect: Nicholas
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Nicholas, 2) LB Ben Moffitt, 3) CB Mike Jenkins
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, speed
Weakness of the defense: Line, proven pass rush from the front four

Defensive Line
The line is the X factor on the USF defense. Three starters need to be replaced and there's not a sure-thing pass rusher to rely on. The only returning starter, Richard Clebert, is a solid force on the nose, while Josh Julmiste is a big end who appears in for a big year. While it's not a huge line, there's good athleticism.
The key to the unit: Find a pass rush. The Bulls finished 14th in the nation in sacks making 37, but replacing Terrence Royal be tough.

Defensive Line Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- DE Josh Julmiste, Soph. - 8 tackles, 1 sack
On the verge of being a star, the 6-6, 265-pound brother of the starting quarterback Pat Julmiste is big, quick, and extremely athletic. He was originally considered a tight end, but quickly moved to the defensive side.

- NT Richard Clebert, Jr. - 16 tackles, 3.5 TFL
There's nothing flashy about the 6-1, 295-pound anchor of the line, but as the only returning starter, he'll have to stand out early. He took over the starting job early last season proving to be a strong rock in the middle.

- DT Tavarious Robinson, Sr. - 20 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2.5 TFL
Part end, part tackle, the 265-pound senior has been a quality reserve over the last three years making 53 career stops with 2.5 sacks, While he's not a top pass rusher on the outside, his quickness should make him a factor at tackle against the less athletic guards.

- DE George Selvie, RFr.
The coaching staff toyed with moving him to the offensive line and playing him at center after he saw some work during bowl preparations, but he's more needed on the defensive side. He's a tough 240 pounds who needs to prove he can get into the backfield on a regular basis.

Top Backups
- DT Allen Cray, Jr. - 13 tackles, 1.5 TFL
A bowling ball of a tackle with a good base and leverage, the 6-0, 295-pound junior will start out as the backup behind Richard Clebert on the nose but could end up at tackle. With a high-octane motor and decent quickness, he'll be a major factor in the rotation.
- DE Jarriett Buie, Jr.
Expected to be a major factor over the last few years, the 6-4, 240-pound junior missed all of 2004 with academic issues and was out all of last season after getting hurt in fall practices. He'll combine with George Selvie at right end and should be a pass rushing specialist.

The 1-2 punch of Stephen Nicholas and Ben Moffitt is one of the best in the nation and should combine for close to 200 tackles and over 30 tackles for loss. Pat St. Louis is the unsung third member of the group, but he finished second on the team in tackles. The reserves haven't gotten a lot work since the front three have been so good, and there's a huge drop-off from the first to the second team.
The key to the unit: Depth has to be developed in case the injury bug strikes the dependable front three. All three might be gone next year, so if nothing else, the backups need time so they can hit the ground running in 2007.
Linebacker Rating: 9.5

Projected Starters
- Stephen Nicholas, Sr. - 79 tackles, 7 sacks, 15.5 TFL, 3 broken up passes
One of the nation's best linebackers, Nicholas has seen time at both outside positions and has been dominant at each spot with 224 career tackles, with 12.5 sacks and 38.5 tackles for loss. While he's not huge at 6-3 and 226 pounds, he hits like a Mack truck and has phenomenal range. Despite his lack of size, he would've been around an early round draft pick had he left early. On the Butkus Award watch list for each of the past two seasons, he'll receive his share of All-America recognition.

- Ben Moffitt, Jr. - 96 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 15 TFL, 3 broken up passes, 4 forced fumbles
Pound for pound, the 235-pound junior is one of the team's strongest players and has carved out a spot for himself by steadily improving over the past few years. He led the team in tackles last season and turned out to be a terror in the backfield. He gets plenty of room to roam with offenses paying attention to Stephen Nicholas on the outside. When he has a line on a ball-carrier, he's a guided missile.

- Pat St. Louis, Sr. - 89 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 9.5 TFL, 2 broken up passes
While he doesn't receive anywhere near the publicity of Ben Moffitt or Stephen Nicholas, he's every bit as productive as a speedy 230-pound weakside defender. He finished second on the team in tackles and now has 23 straight starts seeing time in the middle as well as on the outside. He's the team's fastest linebacker.

Top Backups
- Sam Miller, Jr. - 4 tackles
He's only 200 pounds and he isn't the most talented linebacker around, but he goes 100 miles per hour and has safety speed. He's mostly a special teamer to go along with his backup work on the weakside behind Pat St. Louis.
- Chris Robinson, RFr.
A nice athlete with 6-3, 230-pound size, Robinson will start off playing behind Stephen Nicholas on the strongside. If he moves anywhere, it would be into the middle rather than the weakside.

Defensive Backs
The nation's sixth best pass defense should be even better with the league's best corner tandem in Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams and helped by the return of Danny Verpaele after missing last year with a broken foot. How strong is the USF secondary? The team's fourth leading tackler last season, Carlton Williams, is a backup. There's excellent speed and athleticism among the reserves with several good options to form a good rotation.
The key to the unit: Be as good as last year. As long as Louis Gachette shines at strong safety, this will be the Big East's best secondary.
Secondary Rating: 8.5

Projected Starters
- CB Trae Williams, Jr. - 39 tackles, 2 interceptions, 3 broken up passes
While Mike Jenkins is the team's best defensive back, Williams isn't far behind. The former running back looked more comfortable after having a few problems as a redshirt freshman. He starting 11 games at left corner and is now good enough to make offenses pay for throwing away from Jenkins.

- SS Louis Gachette, Soph. - 16 tackles, 2 interceptions
A strong reserve as a freshman, the 6-3, 205-pound Garchette is a big, strong safety with excellent range and a nice nose for the ball. The former scout team quarterback should quickly be able to pick up what he's supposed to be doing as a the starter and should grow into one of the team's top tacklers.

- FS Danny Verpaele, Soph.
Appearing to be on the verge of huge things after a 57-tackle freshman season, Verpaele missed all of last year with a foot injury. He bulked up 15 pounds to be a bigger hitter, but he'll move from strong safety to free safety to take better advantage of his 4.4 speed. He's great at getting into the backfield with the timing to be used as a dangerous blitzer.

- CB
Mike Jenkins, Jr. - 38 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 interceptions, 5 broken up passes
One of the best cornerbacks in the Big East, Jenkins has a next-level combination of size, speed and skills. He hits like a safety at 6-0 and 200 pounds, and could move over if needed. If he's not USF's fastest player, he's number two. There's not a receiver in the Big East that he can't run with.

Top Backups
- NB Carlton Williams, Soph. - 66 tackles, 2 interceptions, 3 broken up passes
Williams stepped in when Danny Verpaele went down last season and ended up being the team's fourth leading tackler. At 6-3 and 205 pounds, he's a huge presence in the secondary and has good enough speed to play any of the four spots. He'll be a key defender in a nickel back role and backup safety.
- FS Tyller Roberts, Soph. - 9 tackles, 4 broken up passes
Roberts saw significant time as a true freshman both on defense and special teams. While he has mostly been a corner so far, he'll move to free safety to see action behind Danny Verpaele and use his strong tackling ability in a better spot.
- CB Courtney Denson, Jr. - 1 tackle
Originally a quarterback, the former Auburn Tiger will back up Mike Jenkins at right corner. He's a fantastic athlete who has seen a little time in his USF career as a receiver.
- SS Jeremy Burnett, Sr. - 4 tackles
Part nickel back, part safety, the 6-1, 190-pound Purdue transfer is mostly a special teamer who'll see a little time on defense. He has good quickness, but he hasn't shown off any hitting ability in his limited time.

Special Teams
The kicking game is a major, major question mark with no one to rely on at either spot. On the plus side, the return game should be fantastic with Jackie Chambers handling all the duties after averaging 11.6 yards per punt return and 18.5 yards per kickoff return. The coverage units should be fine, but nothing special. 

The key to the unit: Get the kicking game in order. Is Ilia Petrov really going to be the starting punter? Can Mike Benzer be a quality placekicker after a disastrous start to last season?
Special Teams Rating: 5.5

Projected Starters
- PK Mike Benzer, Soph. - 0-3 FGs. 2-3 extra points
Benzer will have to replace the steady Kyle Bronson who hit 11 of 16 field goals last season. Benzer is only 5-8 and 185 pounds, but he has a big-time leg and should show off a little more range than Bronson. However, he missed all three of his field goal attempts last season getting the first three shots as the starter last season. However, they weren't all his fault with some bad snaps contributing to the problems.
- P
Ilia Petrov, RFr.
Petrov has a tenuous hold on the starting punter job looking to replace Brandon Baker, who put a whopping 21 kicks inside the 20.

Related Stories
South Florida Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
 -by  Aug 1, 2006
South Florida Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
 -by  Aug 1, 2006
South Florida Preview 2006 - Offense
 -by  Aug 1, 2006

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