In coach Jim Leavitt’s opinion, it was better than last year.
In Saturday’s Spring Game before an announced crowd of 3,862 at Raymond James Stadium, the White team dominated the Green team 36-10, but Leavitt wasn’t hesitant to remember how poorly his team played in the 2005 Spring Game.
The score of that game was 14-7, with both teams not scoring until the fourth quarter.
“I’m really encouraged,” the 10th-year coach said. “I really am. You remember watching last year’s game? Remember that. There is a lot of talent on the field.”
The talent posing the most questions this spring was at the quarterback position. Three players are eying the starting job: a fresh face, a gem and a veteran.
Redshirt freshman Matt Grothe and sophomore Carlton Hill saw plenty of work Saturday, but it was the familiar face of senior Pat Julmiste who stood out during his mistake-free night, going 6-for-13 on 87 yards passing and 59 yards rushing.
“Pat has played a lot of football here,” Leavitt said. “You can’t forget about that. Pat showed why he’s been starting. He just has that command you can see from anywhere.”
Julmiste, who threw a touchdown pass to Ean Randolph, reasserted himself for his starting job, even though Hill was named the starter going into spring drills. The senior, however, feels he still needs to be competitive throughout the summer.
“I thought I just played average,” Julmiste said. “It’s one of those things where you just have to go back to the drawing board and work for the summer. All this competition is going to bring out the best in everyone, especially me. I just have to get in the weight room and get to work.”
Grothe, who started the first series for the Green team, had a rough start and threw three interceptions in the game.
“I think I did all right,” Grothe said. “I’m glad we’ve changed the offense to what we’re running now because about 90 percent of it I ran in high school. I think I did all right tonight except for those interceptions. Even Mike (Jenkins) told me he knew it was coming.”
Indeed, one of Jenkins’ two interceptions came on Grothe’s first pass play in the first quarter. Grothe would also complete 11 of 19 passes for 167 and a touchdown pass to tight end Cedric Hill.
However, most attention was on Carlton Hill, who missed many spring practices due to his academic schedule, in which he is struggling a bit. He went 5-for-15 with 40 yards passing.
“You can’t ignore the athletic talent that Carlton Hill has,” Leavitt said. “That’s the kind of thing you sort of have to build an offense around.
“Am I worried about Carlton Hill academically? No. I don’t worry as much as you guys think I do.”
Leavitt praised all three quarterbacks after the game.
“All quarterbacks did great things,” Leavitt said. “Matt Grothe didn’t start off well, but then look what he did. That’s a freshman playing right there.”
Some of the running game stood out, even though most of the plays called were passing plays. Walk-on running back Walt Smith had two rushing touchdowns, while Ricky Ponton was limited due to a bruised tailbone. Safety Danny Verpaele didn’t play due to suffering from the flu, and linebacker Stephen Nicholas also watched from the sidelines.
Despite the improvement from last April, Leavitt stressed how leadership is still needed with departure of 13 seniors this fall. Linebacker Patrick St. Louis feels he’s ready to provide it.
“Yeah, I need to step up,” St. Louis said. “I think I lead more by example, but then again, with guys looking up to me, I may go and look up to someone like Stephen Nicholas. But I know I got to be a leader.”
White team- 36, Green team- 10