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Three things to look for during the spring game

USF will split its roster of 112 players into two teams for the spring game that also features an alumni flag football game during halftime. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

The main event of spring football is almost here as the team prepares for the annual spring game at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday, where fans will get a chance to see how the team has developed after six weeks of practice. 

The game may be just a scrimmage, but the messaging around camp has been strictly business, according to redshirt freshman Mike Lofton.

“We take it serious. We approach it like a game day,” he said. “I want to treat it like a [regular season] game, get as many game reps as I can, see if I’m in shape, see what I need to work on in the summertime.”

Here are three things Bulls fans should take note of once the Green and White teams take the field. 

New schemes on both sides of the ball

Starting on offense, look out for an expansive passing game for USF’s quarterbacks under new coordinator Travis Trickett. His system incorporates the running backs as receiving options out of the backfield more often than what the Bulls ran under previous coordinator Charlie Weis.

Another pillar of the scheme is pace. The play calls are made much quicker following each play with the idea of catching opposing defenses off-guard, according to Lofton.

“When the defense isn’t set, we’re able to get our play call in fast and ready to go,” he said. “Once we’re able to get that down pat, I feel like that will really be an advantage for us going into the summer, just knowing how to practice, knowing how to play fast.”

Hoping to not be caught off-guard on Saturday are the Bulls’ defensive units under fresh-faced coordinator Bob Shoop, whose defensive philosophy is centered on an aggressive defensive line that blitzes early and often.

When a system like this works, the result is a dominant and proactive defense that blows up plays in the backfield for fun while masking possible weaknesses in the secondary. When it’s not working though, the defense looks like it’s being picked apart. 

The battle between the fast-paced offense and aggressive defense should make for an intriguing watch come Saturday.

Maturity and development under center

This time last year, sophomore quarterback Timmy McClain was an early enrollee hoping to compete for the starting job with the likes of Katravis Marsh and Cade Fortin. One year later, he is the incumbent with nine starts to his name.

McClain enters his second season under Scott as a seasoned signal-caller, one that hopes to have cut out the naive mistakes a freshman might get away with. When speaking about how he has improved his game over the offseason, decisiveness was his first answer.

“I’ve got to make better decisions when I’m out of the pocket,” he said. “I feel like I had too many bad decisions, just throwing the ball up and not knowing who was around.”

In Trickett’s offense and playing against Shoop’s aggressive defense, the decisions McClain will have to make should be much quicker. His ability to extend plays by scrambling in and around the pocket can be great, but too much of anything isn’t. At times last season, his desire to keep a play alive resulted in more yards lost — or worse, a turnover.

Saturday will be McClain’s first opportunity to show Bulls fans how much he has grown since losing to UCF in the 2021 season finale, a game that ended with a play that fell apart due to his indecisiveness.

Production from transfer players

The Bulls have 14 total transfer players they have integrated into the roster this spring, nine on defense and five on offense. Throughout the course of last season, Scott repeatedly lamented the team’s lack of depth in certain positions, especially on defense.

The depth has arrived now.

Shoop singled out senior defensive end Jatorian Hansford, sophomore linebacker DJ Gordon IV and freshman defensive back Aamaris Brown as players who have caught his eye the most. 

Although each position group has veteran presences who could be expected to retain their starting spots, the presence of the transfer class has provided healthy competition.

Trickett and Scott have also pointed out a couple of transfers on offense who have had an impact in practice and are making depth chart decisions tough on the coaching staff. Not so coincidentally, both arrived from Scott’s previous school, Clemson.

Sophomore wide receiver Ajou Ajou and junior running back Michael Dukes were both recruited by Scott to Clemson before he departed for USF in 2020. Both cited the prior relationship with Scott as a reason for making the decision to transfer.

Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. Attendance is free to the public, but the game will be broadcast on 95.3 WDAE/620 AM and iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.