Spring football games are often an exercise in Catch-22 futility. Any good you might find in your offense usually means the defense played poorly. The defense shines and you figure the offense was bad.
The USF spring game Saturday at Raymond James Stadium was an exception.
The defense was on the spot. It got pushed around by the offense last week in the biggest scrimmage of the spring and was flagged for 13 penalties.
Most of the defensive players took it personally. And then there was last year, when the team lost seven of its final eight games for the most part because of defensive collapses.
The Bulls finished 5-7 with only one Big East Conference victory.
USF's No. 1 defense played against the offense, led by senior quarterback B.J. Daniels, who had has way against the same group last week.
New defensive coordinator Chris Cosh was
determined to straighten out the penalty situation, and the unit was flagged only twice.
"We wanted to make sure we ended the spring on a good note," senior linebacker Sam Barrington said. "Our first team defense had a great day. The front four did a good job and they are the backbone of the defense. It starts with them, and they put enough pressure on B.J. that made things easier for us and the guys in the secondary.
"Coach Cox said he is a perfectionist, and I am right behind him. We have to aim for the sky. We appreciate him because we feel he is going to take us where we want to go as a unit."
The defense has adopted the "5 and 7" motto so nobody will forget last year's debacle.
"Sometimes before we start practice we bring up 'the 5 and 7' and ask who wants to have that feeling again. Of course nobody," Barrington said. "It's motivation to take care of business. When we say '5 and 7' it brings you to a focal point. Last year, we lost games at the end because of a lot of small things. We got to pay more attention to detail on every play and read our keys correctly."
Cosh doesn't want to dwell on last season, but doesn't want anyone to forget it. He also didn't want his defense to forget last week.
"I thought this time they had more passion and energy and hit better. We had some tackles that separated people from the ball," Cosh said. "They were momentum plays and I like the way our secondary guys hit. We protected the deep ball better and we were on top of a lot of posts, which was an improvement. We got our hands on some balls, but we've got to catch them.
"It's all about building this thing together so we can have one heartbeat. I am focused on next year."
Something had to give with the defense playing so well, and it was Daniels, who looked frustrated at times and was off target most of the game.
He wore a "don't touch me" red jersey, and it's hard to produce good numbers playing touch football with the other 21 guys playing tackle.
Daniels completed 9 of 22 passes for 84 yards. Bobby Eveld and Matt Floyd looked as if they are going to carry their battle for the backup job right down to the season opener and had better numbers. Unofficially, Eveld threw for 136 yards, and Floyd racked up 174.
"This was like a game. We didn't handcuff the defense, and I think B.J. got a little frustration with the penetration that our defense front had," head coach Skip Holtz said. "I am not discouraged about him. He made some good decisions. To me it wasn't worth taking the red jersey off and letting them take free shots at him. I've seen B.J. take hits for two years."
Holtz was also pleased with Austin Reiter, the Lakewood Ranch product who made his first start at center.
"It starts there with the center because if you can't get the ball then you are wasting 11 guys' time," Holtz said. "His snaps are good and he is understanding things and is ready to step into that role. He is playing well and has some quickness and athleticism. I am excited to watch him this fall."
The running game showed it is going to have more quality depth with veteran Demetris Murray, Marcus Shaw and the speedy Lindsay Lamar, who is moving from receiver. Shaw ran for 53 yards on 13 carries and scored two short-yardage touchdowns.
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112.