This weekend saw the USF football team return to the field — a soccer field, that is.
The annual spring game was held at Corbett Stadium in front of a packed audience. The scrimmage featured the green team, lead by sophomore quarterback Brett Kean, defeating freshman quarterback Chris Oladkun’s white team 15-14.
The friendly exhibition game served as a preview for the upcoming season under new head coach Charlie Strong.
Starting quarterback and reigning American Athletic Conference Player of the Year Quinton Flowers saw only two possessions, where he threw for a touchdown and an interception each. Starting tailback D’Ernest Johnson was withheld from playing due to a minor ankle injury.
Flowers will be without his two biggest offensive weapons from last year, running back Marlon Mack and wide receiver Rodney Adams, who both entered the NFL draft. Johnson, who has inherited the starting position from Mack, is expected to take up a good portion of that workload.
Both offenses had exciting moments as the quarterbacks battled for the right to be Flowers’ backup. Sickles High alumnus Oladukun found sophomore Darnell Salomon down the sideline for a 76-yard touchdown. But it didn’t take Kean long to respond with his own game-winning 51-yard touchdown strike to Lakewood High alumnus Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
Redshirt freshman Elijah Mack heard his name called often, as he led all rushers with 60 yards on 14 carries. Senior Darius Tice had seven rushes for 59 yards, including a breakout 22-yard run.
Additionally, kicker Emilio Nadelman found some redemption after struggling during recent scrimmages by nailing a 44-yarder into the wind.
But make no mistake, the defenses may have stolen the show.
They combined to force 11 punts total, with seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss. Senior safety Devin Abraham and Junior safety Jaymon Thomas each helped their team out with an interception. Sophomore defensive end Greg Reaves had two sacks and 2.5 tackles for a loss and senior tackle Deadrin Senat had both a sack and a forced fumble.
Overall, the unit showed marked improvement under new defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary. Whether or not this progress will translate into regular season results remains to be seen. Playing on the defensive side of the ball was a recurring weakness during last year’s campaign, with the unit ranked 120th out of 128 Division I-A teams.
This year should see more blitz-heavy packages that seek to put pressure on opposing teams quarterbacks.
Despite it being a rebuilding year defensively, the unit will see nine returning players, including senior cornerback Deatrick Nichols as well as team captain and linebacker Auggie Sanchez, whose 303 career tackles is the second most among returners nationally.
Coach Strong took the mic at halftime and expressed his appreciation for the support, and added that he hoped to see this same level of enthusiasm at Raymond James Stadium in a few months.
Last season saw the Bulls finish with a record of 11 wins and 2 losses, which allowed them to finish in the top 25 for the first time in school history at No. 19 in the AP and Coaches polls.
This year, with a promising new coaching staff, a returning superstar quarterback and a bolstered defense, the sky’s the limit.
Michael Fergusson contributed to this article.
Header photo courtesy of Michael Moore Jr.