USF journal: Defense draws praise, penalties
Exactly two weeks before its season opener, USF's once-maligned defense spent the better part of a soupy Saturday morning alternately giving their fans reason for excitement and expletives.
Which is to say, it made one play -- and penalty -- after another.
The Bulls recorded three interceptions and a fumble recovery (in the end zone, no less), holding the first- and second-team offenses mostly in check in a public situational scrimmage spanning roughly 90 minutes.
But for every pick, there was a personal foul. Or an offside whistle. Or a hold.
"We're gonna harp on those," said senior DT Bruce Hector, who had the fumble recovery, "and the next practice, we'll cut down on 'em."
Whistles aside, there was plenty defensively to encourage the audience of about 200, which grimaced its way through a forgettable '16 season in which USF allowed more than 480 yards a game.
The first-team offense's only touchdown outside the red zone occurred on its second possession, when QB Quinton Flowers found Darnell Salomon in single coverage down the left sideline on third-and-9 for a 41-yard TD.
Flowers went 4-for-6 for 58 yards on the drive, assisted by an offside whistle on third-and-5.
Starting from the defense's 40 on the next possession, Flowers moved his unit to the 9 before DL Kevin Bronson snagged a batted pass at the line. The drive would've ended earlier had it not been for a defensive hands-to-the-face penalty on third-and-7.
Later on in red-zone work, the defense was called for a personal foul on third-and-goal near the 5, allowing backup QB Brett Kean to find TE Kano Dillon for a short TD throw the next play.
Still, Coach Charlie Strong saw enough amid the flags to be encouraged.
"We didn't give up any big plays, and that's what we wanted to do today, not give up the big play and make sure that our defense played with some confidence and played consistently," he said.
"We went to a third-down series, didn't give up the third down, was able to get off the field. The thing about defense, it's all about disruption, and offense is all about creating a rhythm. And on both sides of the ball there were plays made, but we know we still have two weeks before we play our first game, and improvement can be made."
OTHER SCRIMMAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Freshman CB Bentlee Sanders -- a Tampa Catholic alumnus -- intercepted Kean courtesy of a batted pass. Kean also was picked by Cameron Gergley on a short throw over the middle. ... A 45-yard TD pass from Kean to freshman Randall St. Felix was nullified by an illegal-motion penalty. ... CB Mazzi Wilkins -- a Plant alumnus -- had at least two pass breakups early on. ... Senior PK Emilio Nadelman nailed a 35-yard field goal toward the end of the scrimmage. ... Flowers had a red-zone TD pass to graduate transfer Temi Alaka on a short slant. ... Senior TB Darius Tice had the niftiest run of the day, dashing and juking his way to about 25 yards before being gang-tackled. "I like Marshawn Lynch, so I tried to carry 'em as long as I can," he said.
INJURY UPDATE: Strong said senior WR Ryeshene Bronson has a shoulder injury but didn't elaborate. Bronson didn't suit up and had his right arm in a sling.
"We're gonna rehab it and just see where we're gonna be in the next few weeks," Strong said.
Elsewhere, senior WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling -- who injured his right leg two weeks ago -- will return to regular practice Monday, Strong said. Valdes-Scantling suited up but didn't participate in the scrimmage.
Two veteran safeties, Tajee Fullwood (ankle) and Devin Abraham, also suited up but didn't scrimmage. Strong didn't specify Abraham's ailment (he had no casts or braces) but said he should be fine.
ODDS AND ENDS: While the defense took a positive stride Saturday, bear in mind quarterbacks were off-limits, meaning officials blew the whistle every time Flowers was even touched. ... The starting offensive line -- LT Eric Mayes, LG Jeremi Hall, C Cameron Ruff, RG Brooks Larkin and RT Billy Atterbury. The second group featured LT Christion Gainer, LG Hal Roberson, C Jeremiah Stafford, RG Jean Marcellus and RT Glen Bethel, with Grant Polk also logging reps at right tackle. All the second-teamers except Bethel and Polk were freshmen. ... MLB Jimmy Bayes and WLB Danny Thomas lined up with the second team behind Auggie Sanchez and Nico Sawtelle, respectively. ... Senior TB D'Ernest Johnson and junior WR Chris Barr took turns fielding punts.
AUDIBLE: "I thought we were aggressive. We were being ball hawks all day today, and that's what we need for a good defense. You've got to have turnovers, you've got to get the offense back the ball and we're just gonna keep building off of that." -- Hector