TAMPA – Fans flocked to Corbett Stadium on Saturday afternoon to attend the USF football Spring Game and the Bulls gave them a can’t-miss show on campus.
Quarterback Steven Bench threw for 317 yards and three scores to help the White Team hand the Green Team a 35-3 loss in front of a crowd of approximately 2,000 that surrounded the Bulls in the stands and on the grass berms at the home of the USF men’s and women’s soccer teams.
“I liked those touchdowns, the White Team was really crisp,” head coach Willie Taggart said. “Steven did a good job getting the ball to the receivers and getting it to them on time. It was good to see some yards after the catch, where we’re not just catching the ball and getting tackled.”
Bench threw all of his touchdown passes in the first half before the White Team went to the locker room with a 28-3 lead at the halftime break.
Bench, a junior from Bainbridge, Ga., went most of the game without an incompletion and finished 19-for-24 after getting into a groove early on. Bench got the White Team to the 1-yard line by hooking up with Chris Dunkley (Pahokee, Fla.) for a long play on the first drive of the game and fullback Kennard Swanson (Lakeland, Fla.) punched it in from the goal line.
The White Team was back to work following a 27-yard field goal by the Green Team’s Marvin Kloss, who was one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Placekicker Award last fall. Deonte Welch (Williston, Fla.) hauled in five receptions for 108 yards and the senior receiver showed his ability to make a play after the catch by going 65 yards to help the White Team take a 14-3 lead with 1:27 to go in the first quarter.
Receiver Andre Davis stole the show last spring and the senior came to play once again by catching six passes for 124 yards for the White Team. The Tampa native got a great ovation from the crowd after catching a 22-yard touchdown pass laced from Bench with 2:33 remaining before halftime.
“I feel like we’re going to have a much better team than we had last year,” Davis said.
Bench capped off his stellar first half by connecting with Dunkley for a 5-yard touchdown with just 24 seconds to go before the break as the White Team looked comfortable running the hurry-up offense.
“Today (Steven) came out here and he said he was going to give it all he had,” Davis said. “He was going to put it all on the line, and he came out here and did what he had to do and led us to a victory.”
Bench turned things over late in the game to redshirt freshman quarterback Evan Wilson, who produced the final score by connecting with Zach Benjamin for a 5-yard touchdown with 5 minutes remaining.
“I tell you what when we bring both teams together in the fall, oh yeah, it’s going to be nice,” said junior offensive lineman Thor Jozwiak, who helped pave the way for a White Team that will be rewarded with a steak dinner later this spring.
Sophomore quarterback Mike White didn’t find the end zone for the Green Team but the Fort Lauderdale native was efficient, completing 20 of 34 pass attempts for 174 yards.
“It’s been going back and forth this entire spring, one game just doesn’t do it for us. We look at the overall work and both guys are doing a really good job this entire spring,” Taggart said. “I said it earlier this spring I feel we have two quarterbacks that can really get it done for us. It’s amazing what competition will do for you, but it’s also amazing what experience will do.”
Michael Pierre (Winter Garden) led the ground attack running for 77 yards on 15 carries for the Green Team. Green also got six catches for 41 yards from Alex Mut (Port Charlotte). Redshirt freshman Auggie Sanchez (St. Petersburg) who moved from fullback to middle linebacker this spring led the defensive effort posting seven tackles for the White team, while Tyler Robb (Tampa) had five for the Green.
Offensive Line Steps Up
What was a weakness for the Bulls last fall has turned into a strength this spring with the way the offensive line has been producing and the big guys up front continued to step up Saturday.
“I think we only had two false starts, two pre-snap penalties,” Taggart said. “That was something that was our Achilles heel last year and it was good to see our guys getting better. It was a big emphasis this offseason because last year through the first six games we were leading the country and the last six games we were last.”
The offensive line has bulked up quite a bit across the board and Jozwiak said he and his fellow linemen have taken the challenge of getting better to heart this offseason.
“You have to be tough to play on the o-line and that’s something we all took upon ourselves to do is to get strong in the weight room and to work extra when our coaches aren’t out there,” he said. “We’re going to be a great offensive line come fall.”
Bulls Appreciate the Support
Fans didn’t let heavy rainfall stop a good tailgate and USF supporters had no problem busting out their umbrellas to watch Saturday’s main event.
“It goes back to what I felt like and what I thought when I came here. We have some passionate people about this football team and to get them here, considering the conditions that we had, to come out here and support our football team was awesome,” Taggart said. “I appreciate every last one of them and we’re going to get it done for them.”
The grandstand at Corbett Stadium features nearly 1,000 seats that were filled and about 1,000 other fans made the atmosphere electric by cheering from the berms surrounding the action. The weather got better as the game went on and sun and clear skies showed up by the time the team signed autographs for the fans on the field after the final whistle.
“I think it’s good to get the fan base from school to come out and support the Bulls and (for us) to show we’re a good football team this year and we’re going to be good,” linebacker Auggie Sanchez said. “If we can get a good show out here and we can draw fans out here they should just make it over to Raymond James, 30 minutes away, and come support us there.”
Taggart Looks Forward to the Fall
The Bulls as a whole showed a ton of progress on the field and in the weight room this spring and things could be getting even better in the fall thanks to Taggart’s staff putting together the top-rated recruiting class in the American Athletic Conference.
“I think this offseason we answered a lot of questions in recruiting,” Taggart said. “One of the things I thought with our football team we were small and we got bigger. We were weak and got stronger. I thought we were slow and I felt like we addressed that in recruiting. I think we’ve got some speed coming in and we want a lot of those guys to compete, too, to help us put together this football team.”
The Bulls return 17 starters (10 offense, 5 defense, 2 specialists) for Taggart’s second season at the helm, which kicks off on Aug. 30 vs. Western Carolina at Raymond James Stadium. The Bulls 2014 non-conference schedule features home clashes vs. Big Ten foe Maryland (Sept. 6) and ACC opponent N.C. State (Sept. 13) as well as a road game at perennial Big Ten power Wisconsin (Sept. 27). USF will welcome UConn (Fri., Sept. 19), East Carolina (Sat., Oct. 11), Houston (Sat., Nov. 1) and UCF (Fri., Nov. 28) to Raymond James in American Athletic Conference action.