There's a perfectly legitimate chance that we'll see a very different USF football team take the field this fall, with a brand new up-tempo spread offense. We did not, however, see that team yesterday afternoon. Both the Bulls' Green and White teams were plagued with the usual suspects-- penalties, turnovers, leaky offensive lines and inefficient passing games-- en route to an uninspiring 10-9 Green Team victory.
For what it's worth, Willie Taggart was very upfront about his offense's performance in the postgame interview. "I thought some of the execution could've been better if we were going faster," he said. "We didn't look like we've been looking throughout spring ball." We're going to have to take his word for that, because the offensive performance yesterday was well short of impressive.
Apart from a really nice Steven Bench 62-yard touchdown run on the zone read on the Green team's first possession-- the only touchdown scored by anyone on the day-- all three quarterbacks struggled. Bench finished 5/11 for 48 yards and two picks (one was on a Hail Mary to end the first half), Mike White went 11/17 for 83 yards and a pick, and Quinton Flowers was 6/17 for 124 yards. Some stray observations below:
- The offense lined up in a lot more three-wide sets than last season, but they're really, really low on bodies at receiver. There are no real proven options outside of Rodney Adams, though it would seem like Ryeshene Bronson and A.J. Legree are pretty good bets to play on the outside while Adams lines up in the slot. Walk-on Chase Whitehead led both teams with six catches and, based on what Taggart and company have been saying in the spring, is definitely working his way into the rotation. Redshirt freshman Elkanah Dillion is a nice, big target, and Flowers looked to him quite a bit. Sean Price and Dillon should be a nice one-two punch at tight end.
- Marlon Mack was his usual fantastic self behind an iffy offensive line, running for 83 yards on 13 carries. It was also really nice to see Darius Tice run well-- he went for 69 yards on 19 carries. If Tice can keep it up, he'll be invaluable to this team: as good as Mack is, we don't want him getting 300 carries a season.
- Taggart seems to want to name a starting quarterback sooner rather than later, but no one did very much to win the job yesterday. Based on the rosters, which split up Flowers and White/Bench, and players' comments-- Mack explicitly mentioned that Flowers' athleticism opens up the running game-- Flowers seems to be the frontrunner, but he didn't exactly assuage concerns about his arm. He made a very nice deep throw to Dillon, but otherwise was very, very erratic when looking beyond 10 yards (Here you can see video of him completely missing a wide-open Rodney Adams and electing to scramble for a short gain). He's as athletic as ever, though, and did a nice job keeping plays alive with his legs. His rushing numbers would've looked a lot better if the quarterbacks weren't ruled down after a two-hand touch.
- It's tough to make any big assumptions about the defense and their new 4-2-5 scheme-- they did a great job getting into the backfield and getting pressure on the quarterbacks, but they were going up against two makeshift offensive lines (I cannot stress enough how worried I am about the offensive line). Tashon Whitehurst played wonderfully, though: he led the team with 19 tackles and added a sack and an interception. He's a player who-- with a lot of speed and athleticism and a little less size than an average LB-- could thrive in the new scheme. The linebackers could definitely be the strength of this defense, but we learned after the game that Nigel Harris has been indefinitely suspended. If Harris misses any extended period of time, that would be really bad for this defense.
Of course, all of this applies with the caveat that spring games are about as far from be-all end-alls as it gets, and that there's a lot of time for this team to improve. Here's hoping we start seeing some of that progress soon.