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4 things to watch in the USF Bulls’ spring football game tonight

We’re keeping an eye on some newcomers through the transfer portal and one player from another Bulls program.
USF quarterback Timmy McClain will try to show his improvement with the Bulls in Saturday's spring game.
USF quarterback Timmy McClain will try to show his improvement with the Bulls in Saturday's spring game. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Apr. 9

USF isn’t streaming tonight’s spring game because it wants to try to keep BYU in the dark before their Sept. 3 opener. But fans at Raymond James Stadium can catch glimpses of players and schemes that will have a chance to knock off the Cougars in Week 1 and create a breakthrough third season for coach Jeff Scott.

Here are four things to watch:

Related: What will USF Bulls gain from an on-campus football stadium?

1. How much has quarterback Timmy McClain progressed?

USF quarterback Timmy McClain looked like a talented freshman quarterback (good and bad) last season with the Bulls.
USF quarterback Timmy McClain looked like a talented freshman quarterback (good and bad) last season with the Bulls. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times (2021) ]

Scott said McClain played like a talented freshman last season. There were moments of excitement for his athleticism and poise, followed by the growing pains that come with inexperience.

Related: USF looking for growth after Timmy McClain’s freshman season

Scott pointed out that Charlie Ward threw 17 interceptions in his first season as Florida State’s starter before Ward won the Heisman Trophy and a national title the next year. There’s no substitute for experience. Tonight will be the first indication of how much last year’s playing time will help McClain this year.

2. Which transfers stand out?

Ajou Ajou started at Clearwater Academy International before signing with Clemson and transferring to USF.
Ajou Ajou started at Clearwater Academy International before signing with Clemson and transferring to USF. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

The Bulls were very active in the portal, securing a haul that was No. 1 nationally on early signing day and is still ranked among the best of the Group of Five. Clearwater Academy International product Ajou Ajou didn’t make a major impact at Clemson, but Scott has praised the 6-foot-3 receiver and another former Tigers player, running back Michael Dukes. Offensive lineman Mike Lofton, a Calvary Christian alumnus from UCF, has been vital this spring, too.

On defense, former end Jatorian Hansford (Missouri), lineman Rashad Cheney (Minnesota), linebacker DJ Gordon (a Plant City High alumnus via Minnesota) and defensive back Aamaris Brown (an Armwood High alumnus via Kansas State) have drawn praise at various points this spring.

Tonight is a chance to see which ones could be top contributors. Collectively, they’re creating depth that Scott said is “what a Division I football team … should look like” for the first time in his tenure.

3. What’s different with the new coordinators?

New USF defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has coached at several major-conference programs, including Mississippi State.
New USF defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has coached at several major-conference programs, including Mississippi State. [ JIM LYTLE | Associated Press (2018) ]

Both sides of the ball have fresh looks after changes. USF fired defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer late last season and replaced him with veteran Bob Shoop. Expect more blitzes with his scheme, potentially some that show up tonight.

The offense will also have new wrinkles after the Bulls hired Travis Trickett from West Virginia to replace Charlie Weis Jr., who left for Mississippi.

Related: Jeff and Penny Vinik donate $5 million to USF’s on-campus stadium

“We’re going to be explosive,” offensive lineman Donovan Jennings said. “We’re going to be known as a team that is physical, quick, fast, just a team that is flying down the field, making plays.”

Because the game isn’t being televised, what the Bulls show tonight will be less vanilla than most spring games. But it will not be complete, either. Scott said roughly 80 percent of the defense and 85 percent of the offense have been installed.

4. What kind of player is Bayron Matos?

USF basketball player Bayron Matos has been trying out football this spring.
USF basketball player Bayron Matos has been trying out football this spring. [ MARCO GARCIA | Associated Press (2021) ]

Spring games are for discovering breakout players, and Matos (far left) is one of the most interesting athletes in the state. The 6-foot-9, 260-pounder looks like a basketball forward because he is one; he averaged 2.7 rebounds last season in his first season with the Bulls.

His size, length and leaping ability make him a potential force on special teams blocking kicks and as a possible contributor at defensive end. Tonight will be an important indicator of whether he can make a football impact.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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