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Bench couldn’t save Bulls from Week 2 blunder

Quarterback Steven Bench (center) threw for 162 yards and ran for a touchdown in Mike White’s absence Saturday. 

USF began its game against Maryland on Saturday with a 12-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Mike White to junior tight end Sean Price. 

The catch was a promising start for the Bulls, who struggled mightily on offense last season, but it was not a sign of things to come as the game ended with a 24-17 loss.

After the play was complete, White could be seen waving his arm to the sideline in desperation. Soon after, backup quarterback Steven Bench jogged onto the field to relieve the injured White. 

After completing the pass, White was hit and fell to the ground. On the way down, he extended his left arm to cushion his blow, but landed awkwardly. White had injured his left forearm badly and wouldn’t be able to return to the game. 

“I was giving signals to Mike and he kept calling me over,” Bench said. “I thought he was telling me to give the signal again so I kept giving him the signal, but he was saying ‘I can’t go,’ so I strapped my helmet up and went out there.”

Coach Willie Taggart didn’t have an official ruling on White, but he said there is no chance he will play next week against North Carolina State. 

“Right now, I don’t know how long he’s out,” Taggart said. “We need to get the X-rays back, but he possibly has a broken forearm.”

Bench had trouble getting comfortable in the first quarter, throwing for 21 yards on 2-for-8 passing.

With the USF (1-1) offense stagnant, Maryland wasted no time scoring two touchdowns. 

Both Terrapin touchdowns went to wide receiver Marcus Leak in a span of four minutes and 24 seconds. 

Aside from a 21-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown from linebacker Auggie Sanchez, the Bulls were unable to put any points on the board in the first quarter. 

After forcing three turnovers in the first quarter, the USF defense continued to make plays for the rest of the game. 

They added another turnover in the second quarter and kept Maryland (2-0) off the scoreboard until the fourth quarter.

While the defense was shutting down the Terrapins, Bench began to find his stride. He finished the second quarter 7-for-13 for 89 yards. 

Bench capped off his first drive of the second quarter by sneaking in a touchdown over the pylon on a 15-yard scramble on third down. 

Even though starters White and senior wide receiver Andre Davis were ruled out for the game, they could be seen on the sideline trying to ignite their teammates and the crowd. 

“It was good to see Mike come back and keep everyone loose when they got tight,” Taggart said. “I saw him running around slapping guys on the head, telling them a joke to keep them loose. And Andre was doing that the entire game as well. Those are the little things that people don’t see on the outside that we didn’t have last year. They’re really out there playing for each other now.”

USF ended the half with a 35-yard field goal from senior kicker Marvin Kloss to take the lead 17-14. 

For the rest of the game, neither team could get its offense into a groove.

The game-winning touchdown occurred with just under 13 minutes left in the game. 

The Bulls opened the fourth quarter with a drive that had gone nowhere, so they elected to punt from their own 37 yard line. 

As junior punter Mattias Ciabatti punted the ball, the lineman in front of him was pushed back into the ball, causing it to ricochet into the end zone where a Maryland player fell on it. 

Disaster had struck the Bulls in an unlikely way, but unlike last season, they weren’t giving up. 

“They blocked that punt and we didn’t blink on the sideline,” Bench said. “The difference this year is when adversity strikes, we don’t blink and we’ll punch you right back in the mouth.”

But the Bulls were unable to score for the rest of the game, failing to take advantage of the sixth turnover the USF defense forced when sophomore linebacker Nigel Harris forced a fumble with under three minutes remaining. 

Even though the offense was only able to manufacture one touchdown in the entire game, Taggart wouldn’t put any of the blame on Bench. 

“I thought Steven did some good things for us. I think he made some plays,” Taggart said. “I didn’t think Steven had a lot of help. There were at least eight balls dropped. It’s hard to get any rhythm or momentum especially when those drops are on third down. He just didn’t have any help from that standpoint. For a kid that didn’t take a lot of reps in practice, he did good things for us.”

In the locker room, senior nose tackle Todd Chandler made a closed-doors speech to the team. Taggart said Chandler told the team how they’re different than last year, can face adversity and will come out the other side with a win.

Taggart added that the atmosphere after the game was different than it was last year after a loss. 

“That locker room was totally different than any other loss we’ve had around here,” Taggart said. “Last year it was OK to lose, you would see guys smiling and going to hang out. You don’t see that anymore, you see guys ticked off that we lost.”

USF is making steps in the right direction toward rebuilding the program, but Taggart acknowledged that real progress can’t be made without big-time wins. 

“I think it takes one significant win to really get you going,” Taggart said. “It takes a big victory to get the guys to believe in themselves, but it’s going to happen.”