Commentary | USF offense looks crisp in spring football game

adell@bradenton.comMarch 30, 2014 

TAMPA

Spring football games are hard to judge. It's your guys playing against your guys.

But USF entered Saturdays game looking for any sign of life on offense. It scored a nation-low 11 touchdowns and often couldn't get out of its own way last season.

It's a reason Bulls head coach Willie Taggart had every reason to feel pleased after the White team beat the Green 35-3 during Saturday's spring game on the USF campus.

It didn't matter that backup quarterback Steven Bench was the driving force, throwing three touchdowns while completing 19 of 24 passes for 317 yards.

Bench did have a few perks. The squads were split up and he had what is most likely going to be the starting receiving corps and three starters from the offensive line, including center Austin Reiter of Lakewood Ranch.

Still, he threw crisp, sharp passes and maybe put a little pressure on Mike White, who finished last season as the starter and threw for a team-high 1,083 yards.

White completed 20 of 34 passes for 174 yards, and the Green's Michael Pierre led all running backs with 78 yards on 15 carries. For the White, Andre Davis caught six passes for 124 yards and a TD, while Deonte Welch caught five passes for 108 yards and a touchdown, and Chris Dunkley hauled in five passes for 64 yards. Alex Mut led the Green with 41 reception yards on six catches.

"I would be dumb not to give all the credit to the offensive line. Those guys kept me safe back there," Bench said. "My mindset (about the quarterback job) is I gotta be Steven Bench and play with energy and keep my nose down and keep grinding. You can't think about who is getting the reps with the ones."

It was imperative for Taggart to see improvement in the offensive line and receivers.

If there is something wrong with the defense, there are five months remaining to correct it. The offense needed to climb off its death bed.

"Steven did a good job of getting the ball to the receivers and getting it to them on time, and it was good to see the receivers finally get some yards after the catch," Taggart said. "We only had two false starts or two presnap penalties, and that was our Achilles heel last year. I've been impressed with our offensive line the entire spring. We can move people now."

Taggart was quick to downplay any quarterback battle based on one game, but he likes what he sees from both.

"One spring game doesn't do it for us. I feel we have two quarterbacks who can get it done for us," Taggart said. "It's amazing what competition will do, but it's also amazing what experience will do. There is a synergy among our offensive linemen that gets things going for us."

The offensive line is committed to treating the quarterback as a precious jewel.

"We would rather get a holding call than have our quarterback get a sack or get hit," said offensive lineman Thor Jozwiak, the Bulls' biggest player at 6-foot-4, 332 pounds. "Best thing we only had one false start when one of us flinched."

This is not a finished product. Taggart's biggest need is speed, and hopefully that will change with the incoming class.

"I thought we were slow last year and felt like we addressed that in recruiting. We have some speed coming in, and we are going to allow those guys to compete for a job," Taggart said.

The Bulls went with a 3-4 defense most of the game because the young defensive personnel were better suited for it.

Ray Woodie, defensive coordinator for the White team, liked what he saw in Auggie Sanchez, who switched from offense to middle linebacker and led both teams with seven solo tackles. Defensive linemen Derrick Calloway (Manatee High) and Elkino Watson (three tackles for losses) also drew praise from Taggart.

Noteworthy

ODA graduate Evan Wilson threw a five-yard TD pass to end the scoring while completing 4 of 6 passes for 61 yards, including a long of 41 yards. Wilson is a walk-on who will be a redshirt freshman in the fall. "I was just happy to be in there, got a good look and threw it. They are giving me a little shot this spring," Wilson said. "I didn't have any scholarship offers. I thought I could compete at this level, and it's close to home. Mike and Steve definitely have the upper hand, but I am going to do what I can do and see what I can bring to the team." ... All the players and fans seemed happy with the game being played on campus (at Corbett Stadium) instead of Raymond James Stadium, where the Bulls play their home games and have annually held their spring game.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.

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