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USF Spring Game 2019 - Reviewing Crucial Plays

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Let’s take a deeper look at three important plays from the spring game and see what lessons can be learned before fall camp begins.

Photo courtesy of USF Athletics
USF Athletics

USF’s spring football game has Bulls fans buzzing to see this newly revamped offense in action against live competition. Obviously, Kerwin Bell didn’t want to show his hand too much for the Wisconsin game on August 30, but they did showcase some electric plays.

First play of the game

The first play of the game was the most important play for Kerwin Bell to get the offense on the right foot, and begin a new era of USF Football. Bell touts a “Play fast, score faster” attitude, and poetically the first play of the 2019 Spring Game was a touchdown pass right up the seam from Blake Barnett to Mitchell Wilcox. So was this the offense being dynamic? the defense not knowing what to do and a blown coverage? It seemed like a little bit of both.

One crucial change to the offense this offseason was Johnny Ford moving from running back, to slot receiver. Bell wants Ford to be the dynamic playmaker and get the ball into his hands in any way possible (think Percy Harvin when he was at Florida). So of course, Johnny Ford lines up as a running back for the first play. With the defense familiar with Ford’s speed and elusiveness, both linebackers kept their eyes on Ford and bit on the run fake to the outside, leaving Wilcox uncovered running a seam route in-between the hash marks. The two safeties covered the two deep out routes ran by the outside receivers and the corners played underneath, leaving Wilcox by himself in the middle of the field.

The Daily Stampede was able to confirm that the play was set up to be a misdirection, and the seam route was installed the morning of the spring game to catch the defense with their guard down. If Bell is willing to do something like this for a spring game, it’s going to be exciting to see what he has in store for Wisconsin.

Finding the Mismatch (again)

Using your players properly and playing to their strengths was a foreign concept the last two years, but Bell clearly knows which of his players he can use to create mismatches against a defense. One player who has shown flashes of speed and route running is Jernard Phillips, who finally got the chance to showcase his skills during the spring game.

Late in the first quarter, with (now transferring) third-string QB Octavious Battle at the helm, Phillips ran a slant and go, got behind the defense, and Battle made the perfect throw for an easy touchdown. Despite Phillips and DeVontres Dukes both running deep routes (almost to the same spot), Phillips was able to get behind both DBs using his speed.

This philosophy of offense was something that Willie Taggart and company were able to master during the pinnacle of the Gulf Coast Offense. Bell did say during the spring that the QBs will have to make multiple reads and go through their progressions, but in this case, the progression was simple on the first read.

Growing pains and missed opportunities

As much as we want this offense to be perfect, they are going to make mistakes. One play that stuck out was a flow concept, used to put Michigan transfer WR Eddie McDoom in as much space as possible.

This play was set up by the play before, where Blake Barnett fakes a toss to Odunayo Seriki. The flow of the offense is going to the right side, and Barnett keeps it and runs it up the middle for a minimal gain. (Remember, the QB has a non-contact jersey, so when he gets touched the play is blown dead.)

On the next play, the same fake toss happens, and the entire defense flows with Seriki. More importantly, the linebackers fall for the play action once again. McDoom releases off of the linebacker and begins going against the flow, while the two receivers run deep routes with the flow of the offense. Knowing McDoom’s speed, there’s a strong chance he goes for a TD if the receivers block downfield for him, but Barnett throws it behind him and it falls incomplete.

Bell knows his offense still has a long way to go before they have the art of the Show and Go mastered. However, despite these growing pains, the offense was still able to register 500 passing yards between the three QBs. Comments made by the coaching staff and players after the game indicated that the offense is mostly entirely installed, and now it’s down to the players to perfect it and minimize the mistakes.