USF and San Jose State have never faced each other in a football game, yet the Spartans will be a very familiar foe as the Bulls open their 2017 season.
The Spartans offensive coordinator Andrew Sowder was on the 2016 Texas staff as a quality control coach with head coach Charlie Strong and offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert. Sowder and Gilbert worked closely together at Eastern Illinois, Bowling Green and Texas over the last five years.
“He’s a guy I’ve won a lot of football games with and been in some battles with,” Gilbert said of Sowder. “I was talking to [SJSU’s} radio people yesterday and told them they got a great coordinator... I’m excited for him and his career and the path that he’s gonna get to take because of that opportunity.”
Gilbert said that he anticipates the Spartans offense to be very similar to what the Bulls will run, with some wrinkles thrown in by SJSU’s offensive-minded head coach Brent Brennan.
Three of the four coordinators in this game have never called plays before. Gilbert, the lone exception, said one of the keys to calling a good game is to keep an open mind.
“You just try to do the best you can and put your kids in the best position to make plays. You’ve got a really good idea about what you’re gonna do, but the key with that is being able to make adjustments along the way,” Gilbert said.
Defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary has seemingly turned the defensive unit around with the aggressiveness of his playcalling and fiery attitude on the sideline, something that was sorely missed in 2016.
“[We] wanna see our guys flying around, playing aggressive, not confused on anything, that’s the biggest thing,” Jean-Mary said. “We’ve tried to simplify some things on defense for them so you wanna see guys playing fast and physical and the only do that is to be 100% sound on their assignments.”
The first game of the season under a new coaching staff is always more difficult because there’s no film to watch of the players you’re going up against in that system. Tou have to rely on film from the new coaches’ old teams. It seems like USF hit the jackpot (in a bad way) with a new HC, and new OCs and DCs that have never called a game. Throw in a three-man competition at quarterback, and you’ve got yourself a conundrum.
“For us defensive coaches, it really puts us where we have to be assignment sound and gap sound when you really don’t know who the quarterback is going to be or exactly what offense your gonna run,” Jean-Mary said. “You have to have all your bases covered. We’ve tried to cover everything from A-to-Z, which in all honestly probably made us better coaches.”
- Gilbert confirmed that left tackle Eric Mayes is the starter for Saturday, as is Brooks Larkin at right guard.
- Gilbert doesn’t remember the first play he ever called, but we looked it up and it was at Eastern Illinois in 2012 (not counting high school).
Then-junior quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (yes, the heir to the New England Patriots dynasty) completed a five-yard pass to wide receiver Erik Lora on the first play from scrimmage. Lora would go on to set the FCS record for catches in a season with 136.
- Scouts from the Kanas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans, and San Francisco 49ers were at practice talking to coaches — defensive tackles coach Sean Cronin and Gilbert for sure.
- No fewer than six true freshmen on the defensive side of the ball will be on the travel roster: DTs Kevin Kegler, Kelvin Pinkney, LB Keirston Johnson, and DBs Mekhi LaPointe, Donelle Thomas and Naytron Culpepper.
- The Bulls head out west on Thursday instead of their normal Friday travel day so that they can get adjusted to the time difference. #bodyclocks
- WR Ryeshene Bronson (right shoulder) didn’t practice today, so there’s seemingly no way he plays on Saturday.