Hours before the first spring game held on campus in two years, heavy rain made it seem as if coach Willie Taggart would have to reschedule and wait a little longer before he could debut his team.
The tailgate set up by USF before the game was canceled and by 3:45 p.m., it didn’t look like it would clear up any time soon.
Yet the parking lots remained packed and the game started on time with more than 2,000 fans in the bleachers, behind the goal posts and across the field on the burm to watch the White team dominate the Green team 38-3.
For Taggart, it brought him back to his first day working at USF.
“It goes back to what I felt like and what I thought when I came here,” Taggart said. “We have some passionate people about this football team and to get them out here considering the conditions we had was awesome. I appreciate every last one of them.”
The idea of having the game on campus was his to begin with.
“We’re trying to find ways to get students to our games and why not out here?” he said. “We never do anything for our students. They have to come out to (Raymond James Stadium) to watch us in the fall so why not have this here? We want them to come to watch us play at Ray Jay, it’s only right to put this on campus.”
The Bulls, who went 2-10 last season, went through their share of big losses. The likely highlight, or lowlight, of that season was the question of the quarterback position, which included switching four players in and out.
Toward the latter half of the season, freshman Mike White emerged as the starter and fan favorite to lead the Bulls into next season after Floyd’s one half stint and injuries to both graduating senior Bobby Eveld and transfer Steven Bench.
Saturday, however, posed a new question.
After Bench and the White team pummeled White and the Green team, the battle between who lines up under center could be closer than expected.
Bench has had to play catch up throughout spring practices, but after going 19-of-24 for 317 yards and three touchdowns, he may have some fans putting him as their favorite. White finished 20-of-34 for 172 yards. Even redshirt freshman Evan Wilson saw action for the White team near the end, completing 4-of-6 passes and a touchdown to sophomore Zach Benjamin.
“I just have to be Steven Bench,” Bench said. “I have to come out here, have fun, and bring a lot of energy. You can’t think about the last half of last season or who’s getting starts with the ones and twos.”
Taggart isn’t convinced yet, though.
“The White team was really crisp and Steven did a good job of getting the ball to receivers,” he said. “(The competition at quarterback) has been going back and forth this entire spring. One game isn’t going to do it for us.”
If Taggart had to pick one game from a talent standpoint, the spring game wouldn’t be a bad one to look at, though – for the White team, at least.
Bench was behind an offensive line that allowed one sack for 8 yards compared to the Green team’s three for 20. The White team didn’t run the ball very much, but didn’t need to with USF’s “rockstar receivers,” as senior Andre Davis referred to them.
Davis led all receivers on the field with 124 yards on six catches and a touchdown.
“As a whole group, (all the receivers are) coming along,” Davis said. “I feel like we can line up with any receivers on the field and have a good game.”
Deonte Welch also finished with over 100 yards with a touchdown, trailed by Chris Dunkley with 64 yards and a touchdown, each with five catches. Dunkley opened the passing game up for Bench with a 44-yard catch downfield, landing right on the goal line leading to the first score.
Bench would lead the White team to two scores in the first and second quarter to get the early lead and though Davis said Saturday was as good as he’s ever seen the Penn State Transfer play, Bench deflected the glory to the guys up front.
“I’d be dumb not to give the (offense) credit,” he said. “They kept me safe back there all day long. I couldn’t be more proud of those guys.”
That should mean a lot considering Bench was seen running outside the pocket on nearly every play during his starts throughout last season.
For the Green team, apart from a familiar three points coming off the leg of Gronza Award finalist Marvin Kloss, senior Michael Pierre made the most of his 15 carries with 78 yards with runs as long as 23 yards.
Pierre went down in practice a week prior just a few plays after running in an 80-yard touchdown in practice off a screen pass, but if there was anything wrong with his health it wasn’t apparent Saturday.
Despite Pierre’s success, the Green team was shut down by a defense that featured a newly introduced 3-4 defense that was led by redshirt freshman Auggie Sanchez who was listed as a fullback last season.
He led the White team with seven tackles on a field that, by the end of the game, was under clear skies and a bright sun.
And as the clock hit 0:00 at Corbett Soccer Stadium and the goal posts were being wheeled away, fans took to the field for autographs.
The game didn’t end there, as the losing Green team had to serve players of the White team steak dinners.
The next time Taggart and the Bulls will play in front of fans will be in their home opener to kick off the 2014-15 season against Western Carolina.