OPINION: Takeaways from USF's spring game

By Brian Hattab, Assistant Sports Editor
On April 14, 2019

Senior quarterback Blake Barnett throws a pass during the USF spring game at Corbett Stadium on Saturday. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

USF football held its annual spring game at Corbett Stadium on Saturday. Divided into offense vs. defense for the second straight year, the white team (offense) defeated the green team (defense) 73-36.

Here are some takeaways from the Bulls’ 15th and final spring practice.

An Early Statement

The clock at Corbett Stadium read 1st Quarter — 15:00.

Blake Barnett dropped back to pass from the 25-yard line. He found a wide-open Mitchell Wilcox between the hash marks at midfield.

Wilcox ran into the end zone untouched.

Within seconds, it was 9-0 white team — it got two additional points for a “big play” of 15 or more yards.

More importantly, a statement was made — Kerwin Bell is in charge of the USF offense now and things are going to be different.

“The good thing about Kerwin … is he stretches the field,” coach Charlie Strong said. “He’s able to attack on all three levels.”

The real takeaway from the game’s first play, however, is the play had just been installed by Bell that same morning.

Talk about a fast-learning offense.

The QB2 Competition

Former offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert never named a No. 2 quarterback last season.

Thankfully, it doesn’t appear Bell will be going down that same questionable road.

Jordan McCloud took the majority of the snaps behind Barnett, completing 17-of-25 passes for 228 yards. The redshirt freshman threw two touchdowns and one interception.

Fellow redshirt freshman Octavious Battle was clearly No. 3 on the depth chart Saturday, but he played well too, completing 8-of-12 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. He, like McCloud and also Barnett, was intercepted once.

The talk all spring camp long had McCoud as the No. 2 quarterback, so Saturday’s stats should come as no surprise to anyone who was paying attention.

There’s still a long time between now and Aug. 30, when USF opens its season against Wisconsin at Raymond James Stadium, so Battle could ultimately win the position yet.

But at least it looks like someone will actually win it this year.

The Offense Overall

Overall, the offense was very encouraging, especially the passing game.

The white team put up 509 yards passing with five touchdowns, one of the touchdowns coming from the much talked about slot receiver Johnny Ford in the third quarter. Ford could have had another in the fourth quarter, too, if he didn’t trip after making the catch.

In total, 14 players caught passes and the touchdowns were spread out among five different receivers.

The running game could have been better. The white team only gained 78 on the ground, with 29 of those coming from the quarterbacks.

But, for an offense that struggled to move the ball at times last year, Saturday should give fans optimism heading into the fall.

The Defense Overall

Don’t let the wacky score fool you — the defense was pretty good too. It was just very hard for it to put points on the board because there were fewer ways to score than last year.

“The defensive guys got mad at me because I took away the sacks and tackle for losses, which could have added more points to the score,” Strong said.

Indeed it could have. There were 15 sacks and 20 tackles for losses, including three by Greg Reaves.

“We’re definitely upset about the way we played defense last year, especially the last six games,” Reaves said. “That’s been a big thing for us, just trying to come back and …  just establish our identity … I think we’ve taken steps — leaps toward that goal and we’ve just got to continue doing that going into the summer.”

Add on three interceptions and the defense had a pretty good day, even if it was outscored by 36 points thanks to a scoring system that was clearly designed to favor the offense.

Most Importantly — It’s Just Spring

Saturday was encouraging for a number of reasons, but it’s important to keep everything in perspective — it was just a scrimmage between players who have been going against each other all spring long.

How will the offense respond to a defense it doesn’t know almost everything about? Similarly, how will the defense respond to an offense it doesn’t know almost everything about?

More optimistically, what didn’t we see from Brian Jean-Mary’s “vanilla,” in his words, defense Saturday? What more can we expect to see from Bell’s offense once it’s fully installed by the start of the season?

Nobody left Corbett Stadium with their heads hanging, which is more than can be said about Dec. 20’s Gasparilla Bowl.

But nobody was ever going to leave the spring game like that anyway.

Bring on summer and fall camps, then bring on Wisconsin.

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