(Editor’s Note: Steven Bench played quarterback for USF from 2013-15 and served as Quinton Flowers’ backup last season. He appeared in 18 career games, passed for 1170 yards and seven touchdowns, and ran for three scores.)
I was 15 years old, sitting in a skybox inside Doak Campbell Stadium. The energy had been completely drained from the place, with the exception of all those players and coaches wearing green. This wasn’t like the other home games I had gone to, and I had been to all of them for three years straight up to that point. My parents both went to FSU, and I lived about 30 minutes north of campus. Safe to say being a Seminole fan wasn’t much of an option.
I was born with garnet and gold in my blood. So that September day crushed me as much as anyone else, if not more. I just stared down at the field, all the white uniforms going to the locker room and all the green ones celebrating a huge victory. I remember the entire stadium just feeling sad. However, I didn’t know just how huge of a victory had just occurred until years later.
Fast forward to last season. For FSU week, I watched a disgusting amount of film. I analyzed the FSU defense in every game all the way back to the national championship against Auburn. They were good on defense last year, but I remember thinking, “Man, they’re not as good as they were in the national championship.” They weren’t “world-beaters” like that 2013 team was, but still pretty darn good. They ran a decent amount of man-to-man on defense, because they trusted the skill of their players.
We were 1-0 after a somewhat sloppy win against FAMU, and the entire week we still weren’t exactly sure how good of a team we had at the time. While we talked about beating FSU, there was no conviction behind our words. It was hope. We hoped we would beat them. We hoped things would go our way. The fans hoped that their trip to Tallahassee would be worth it. The media hoped it would be a replay of the 2009 game. But nobody believed any of this. There was no real reason to support the thought of us beating FSU.
Fast forward one more time to this week. Florida State is coming off of a beating that I have never seen them take in my life. They’re reeling this week. Coach Fisher has said they have to find an identity. The fans aren’t sure what to think. The players never imagined a game in their career would ever go like Louisville did. They’ve lost their best defensive player in Derwin James for several weeks, and their Heisman hopeful Dalvin Cook hasn’t reached 100 yards rushing in a game this season. This entire week is uncharted waters for the Seminoles.
On the flip side, USF is 3-0 after dismantling the teams they should dismantle, including an ACC team (looking at you Big XII). They have any number of guys on national watch lists, and it seems as if half the team has scored a touchdown already. I’ve talked to a few players this week, and all that hope stuff we talked about earlier is long gone. These guys feel GOOD. They know what this game means to not only themselves, but an entire university and even college football across the country. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and they recognize it.
With all of that said, I think FSU getting beat 63-20 last week is one of the worst things that could have happened to the Bulls. Be honest here — what are the chances a Jimbo Fisher coached FSU team plays that badly two weeks in a row? Not gonna happen. They’re gonna come out with a point to prove to the entire country. Look for them to have a slightly different look against USF, and by different I mean better.
South Florida will have to play very well to win this one, but they are very capable of doing so. On special teams they must make their kicks, block their man, and cover their lanes. Sounds simple, but it will play a massive part in this game.
Let’s talk about the Bullshark defense. They need to have everyone healthy this weekend. I don’t know what the injury report is looking like, but guys like Bruce Hector, Mike Love, and Khalid McGee would be a huge help if they played, and an equally huge loss if they didn’t. Tackling must be on point, because we all remember what Dalvin did to us last year. “Hang on, helps coming” is how I was always taught to tackle, but what do I know, I’m a quarterback.
Last but not least for the Bullsharks: turnovers. There can’t be any dropped interceptions, and all fumbles have to go to the guys in green. Opportunities to get a turnover are hard to come by, and if you miss your first chance, you might not ever get a second.
As for the GCO, or Gulf Coast Offense (welcome to the freakin’ show), they will need to just do what they do best — play ball. The skill players they have are as good as anyone in the country, which helps out the inexperienced offensive line. They don’t have to go out there and maul FSU’s D-line every play. They don’t even have to beat them a majority of the plays. The USF offensive line can lose their matchups, they just have to “lose slowly” (shoutout to my dad, Coach Bench). If the line can just get in the way for long enough, it’ll give those fast guys time to make plays.
The three running backs (Marlon Mack, Darius Tice, D’Ernest Johnson) and Quinton Flowers are as good as any backfield the Seminoles will see this year. Tice is a tank and will always run hard.
Everyone knows about Mack because he’s an absolute stud. I can go on and on about the guy, but two things stand out when it comes to the his play. Obviously he can take it to the house anytime, anywhere on the field. But the second is that he NEVER gets hit hard. He’s so athletic that it hardly ever looks like he’s trying.
I remember a play last season where he got flipped upside down against Syracuse, and he just landed on the back of his neck and turned it into a nice little roll like it was what he was planning to do the entire time.
Then there’s D’Ernest, who I think is one of the most underrated players in the nation. This guy is everything that Boobie Miles uncle was talking about in Friday Night Lights.
He can run, catch, block, tackle, return kicks, and hell; he had as many passing touchdowns as I did last year! He’s a special football player that doesn’t get the credit he deserves.
Then there’s my boy Quinton Flowers (Q-Stick is what I call him). This kid goes out there and just balls. He’s got a dead leg that will break ankles. He sees things that aren’t coached. He threw a post into Cover 3 last year against Temple, which is a big no-no in the football world. But Q went out there and unleashed the La$er$how and threw it past everybody right into Rodney’s hands for a touchdown.
Quentin is the definition of a an, “Oh no... Way to go!!” type of player. Right when you think he’s making things worse, he makes a big play and is leading the offense into the end zone. Sure, some might be frustrated the few times he skips a hitch route or overthrows an open guy, but then he rips in a dime like this on the very next snap:
That’s Q-Stick for you, and I know he’s gonna go out there and do Q-Stick things on Saturday, which is good for the Bulls.
As far as scheme goes, expect USF to go as fast as possible. Florida State has had some issues communicating on defense this season, and going fast will cause problems like that to happen. The Seminoles like to play man coverage, and if one person isn’t doing their job, a play like this can happen where there’s no one near a guy.
I don’t know if Florida State is trying to get the perfect defensive call or what, but multiple times this season they’ve had trouble getting lined up on defense. Again, going fast affects the miscommunication and results in the defense looking like this:
Florida State became the great, tradition-rich program they are today by going anywhere to play anybody, and winning. It’s time USF started doing the same thing.
There’s no more hope in Tampa. Hope is long gone and isn’t coming back for awhile. It’s been replaced with winning 10 of the last 12 games. It’s been replaced with BELIEF. It’s been replaced with CONFIDENCE. While many may see this as a David vs Goliath game, don’t get it twisted. This is Goliath vs. Goliath.
P.S. I’m not able to make it to the game this weekend, which means I won’t be able to run off on the plug twice at Plies’ tailgate. But you’d be a damn fool if you think I won’t be in a robe drinking champagne after my brothers win this one.