EAST LANSING, Mich. — On USF's first two punts, starting MLB DeDe Lattimore was not only in on the coverage team but got the tackle as well, an ominous start to a busy day leading the Bulls defense.
Lattimore totaled a career-best 15 tackles — his previous best in 36 career starts was 11 — and coach Willie Taggart said he was motivated all week after a subpar showing defensively in last week's opening loss to McNeese State.
"He didn't play like he was capable of playing, and we challenged DeDe," Taggart said. "He's the leader of this football team. We challenged DeDe to go out and be that leader, not just physically, but a vocal leader too. He did a great job this week with both. I'm proud of him for that. … This football team needs leaders."
LIGHTNING: Much like USF's trip to Notre Dame in 2011, the start of Saturday's game at Spartan Stadium was delayed by 67 minutes because of nearby lightning.
Fans were ordered to evacuate the stadium, and when the Spartans' large student section didn't budge, MSU men's basketball coach Tom Izzo took a microphone on the field, telling the students if they evacuated, he'd watch the game from the middle of the student section.
BENCH CAMEO: Penn State transfer QB Steven Bench made his Bulls debut in the third quarter, playing one series after Bobby Eveld's second turnover. Bench missed on his only pass attempt and gained 4 yards on one carry, and Taggart said his coaches had a package planned for Bench and might have similar packages down the road.
BIG CROWD: Spartan Stadium drew an announced 70,401 fans, the ninth-largest crowd in USF history — the top nine are all on the road, with the biggest home crowd being last year's 69,383 to see the Bulls face Florida State in Tampa.
BAD CHOICES: Sophomore CB Kenneth Durden, in his second game handling USF's punt returns, set the Bulls up in bad field position with poor choices.
Durden fielded a second-quarter punt at his 2-yard line and was dropped at the 4, then took one at the 8 and was dropped at the 7. But he also allowed punts to be downed at the USF 5 and 1-yard lines. Taggart said he'll evaluate his options on returns this week.
THIS AND THAT: DE Julius Forte (Boca Ciega) forced a fumble with a sack, and backup LB Hans Louis forced a fumble on a punt return and recovered the loose ball just before halftime. … PK Marvin Kloss had his first career field goals, connecting from 49 and 21 yards. … P Mattias Ciabatti played well overall on a busy day, averaging 40.1 yards on nine punts. He had a 15-yard punt that went out of bounds in the fourth quarter, setting up Michigan State at the USF 33 on what would be the Spartans' only scoring drive on offense. ... Taggart credited the defense's improved play to shifting coordinator Chuck Bresnahan down from the booth to the sideline, where he can more easily communicate changes and instructions to players between drives.
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bulls and follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.