If the Bulls’ situation at quarterback appears oddly familiar, it’s probably because it is. After Saturday’s Spring Game, the USF football team is in the same position concerning the man under center as it was a year ago — the No. 1 spot is set, but the backup role remains a mystery.
Junior Ronnie Banks had no problem moving his side as the White team claimed a 31-6 victory against the Green, but freshman Pat Julmiste and sophomore David Mullins still have plenty of work to do to settle the battle for No. 2.
“Will they be ready by fall?” USF coach Jim Leavitt said. “I think Ronnie will be ready. The other two have got to be ready. They’re not ready yet. They need a little more time this summer, but by fall, hopefully, they’ll be all right.
“Last year, we weren’t sure with Ronnie as backup.”
While Banks isn’t as sure a bet as three-year starter Marquel Blackwell was a year ago, the New Orleans native has done nothing to dispel Leavitt’s confidence in him.
Banks got the White team moving on its second drive, aided by a pass interference penalty and a 28-yard run on third down by senior DeJuan Green. Penalties continued to plague the Green team when too many men on the field pushed the White to first and goal. Banks waited in the pocket, then scrambled to his left and hit freshman Darren Haliburton from four yards out for the first score.
Although not known for his scrambling, Banks displayed a Blackwell-esque move later when, on 4th-and-2 from the 25, Banks bided his time before taking off through a hole on the right side, running out of bounds at the 14.
“It was pretty decent,” Banks said. “I surprised myself because I’ve been having hip problems. My coach was laughing at me because he was a little surprised, too.
“(But) that’s not my game. I’m trying to get what I can get. I can get five or six yards, but I know that’s not my strength.”
That drive started on the Green 33-yard line following Stephen Nicholas’ interception, and Banks carried the offense to three successful fourth-down conversions on the drive, with the final one a Clenton Crossley toss to the left for a one-yard touchdown to put the White up 21-0. Banks completed 9-of-18 for 89 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions. Last season, Banks was 11-of-18 for 182 yards and two touchdowns.
On the other hand, neither of Banks’ backups distinguished himself in the game. Julmiste, a redshirt freshman from Miramar High School, took a pair of sacks on the White’s second drive and was forced into an intentional grounding penalty that set his squad back 13 yards on its next possession.
“The first series I had jitters,” Julmiste said. “Sometimes I would rush, and sometimes I’d try to be patient. I was rushing too much.”
Mullins threw the two interceptions that led to scoring drives by the White team and was sacked by Anwar McNeil on the first play after Crossley scored, fumbling away the ball to give it right back to Banks.
Mullins then got the Green team its only touchdown. However, it was after he switched teams.
Maneuvering for a nice scramble and juking defensive end Terrence Royal in the backfield, Mullins had the ball punched out of his hands right to senior safety Kevin Verpaele, who returned it 52 yards down the right sideline for the touchdown.
Mullins fumbled twice and threw two interceptions Saturday while completing 8-of-18 passes for 60 yards.
Turnovers were Mullins’ Achilles’ heel in 2002, when he was 0-for-6 in limited duty with two interceptions.
“I didn’t get as many reps as I wanted during the spring, so the only time I had to show my thing was during the scrimmages and this game,” Mullins said. “I need to improve a lot. I’m not very happy with my performance, obviously.”
Julmiste committed his first turnover when Julian Johnson sacked him late in the fourth quarter, causing a fumble that Kenny Huebner recovered, then lateraled back to Johnson, who capped the scoring by running in from 30 yards out. Julmiste was 3-of-15 for 16 yards.
“I haven’t given myself too much credit,” Julmiste said. “It’s going to take hard work, dedication, knowing my assignments, causing no turnovers and showing leadership to separate myself from David.”
Added Leavitt, “You remember these guys haven’t played much football. Julmiste is just a freshman, and you can see he has an arm, a strong arm. He has a presence. What he looks like to me is what you expect — a young guy that is a great young man. He’ll study film all the time and work extremely hard, and that’s why I believe he’ll be very good.
“All the tools are there. He just needs to play football.”
The White defense also shined, forcing three turnovers in the first half. In addition to Nicholas’ pick, the second White touchdown came off an 83-yard interception return by J.R. Reed.
Mullins drove the Green inside the White 40 but lofted a ball in the corner and Reed, USF’s interception leader the past two seasons, snagged the ball and took off down the right sideline. The senior weaved through the offense and picked up some blocks before Vince Brewer dragged him down from behind at the 4-yard line. Quinton Callum took it in on the next play for a 14-0 game.
Notes: Junior Bruce Gipson, who made six receptions during his first two seasons, saw action at both wide receiver and cornerback. Leavitt will continue to look at him in both roles … Sophomore punter Brandon Baker made a big statement Saturday in his bid to replace Devin Sanderson. He connected on a pair of 50-plus yard kicks and pinned the Green team inside the 5-yard line with another. The Lake Placid native averaged 45 yards a kick, and if not for a 25-yard punt in the third quarter, his average would have been much higher. Returners were not allowed to advance kicks.
Contact Anthony Gagliano at firstname.lastname@example.org