Spencer changing the culture on USF's defense

Patrick Zier
Ledger correspondent

Glenn Spencer knows. You don't have to tell South Florida's defensive coordinator how poorly the Bulls played in 2020. He knows, because he keeps getting reminded of it. A lot. You can cite a number of reasons why the Bulls were so bad. Spencer, like Coach Jeff Scott and the rest of his staff, were new and there was a new system and limited time to learn it because of COVID, but when you have a losing team, you don't want to dwell on those things.

Reasons, even if some are legitimate, tend to become excuses, a crutch for players to lean on instead of accepting responsibility. If you believe you performed poorly because of circumstances beyond your control, then you can also believe that to be better, you just have to change the circumstances, you don't have to change anything you're doing.

That there was some of that going on when Scott took over this team last year, that it was part of the culture of losing that had infiltrated USF football, is evident.

"The first year, you've got issues you're dealing with," Scott said. "This year, we're able to get to the football part that maybe we couldn't get to last year. When you have a losing program it's 'Do I have to go out there, is it mandatory?' This year, our players were eager. There was no drama."

But as Scott and Spencer, a veteran coach with lots of experience, both know, good intentions aren't good enough. They must lead to results. And if you hone in on this team's defense, what's most apparent is that  USF has to play better up front. Much better. In football, everything starts up front.  Offenses don't move if blockers don't block. On defense, particularly in today's run and gun game, if you can't disrupt the quarterback, at least some of the time, you can't win.

As is the case at most positions on this team, the Bulls return a ton of experience in the defensive line. Blake Green and Thad Mangum in the middle and Rashawn Yates at end started virtually every game for USF. Now, they need to bring that experience to bear. But the key to getting increased pressure may come from linebackers Dwayne Boyles, Antonio Grier and Andrew Mims. This group has the potential to be one of the best in the AAC and a way needs to be found to exploit their explosiveness.

"Our group has definitely improved," Scott said. "They get challenged every day because fall camp is always hardest on the offensive and defensive lines." And it isn't just about the starters. Because of the fast paced offenses in today's game, you have to be able to rotate players in and out and if you don't have quality depth, you can get burned. In players like Kevin Kegler and Kelvin Pinkney, the Bulls have experience and newcomers like Tramel Logan may also help. The body type may not be what you'd like but what you have to decide is who are your best three guys to have out there."

Scott indicated that who plays is more dependent on performance that being at a specific position.

"What you're looking for is improvement and we have seen progress," he said.

And while the defense, and in particular the defensive line, must play better, you also have to be aware that now, offense has to pretty much carry the load. 

"You do everything you can to play great defense but as a coach, you have to build your offense knowing that," Scott said.

Still, the defense doesn't get a pass, and creating a little turmoil up front would be nice. In fact, it may be necessary.

Patrick Zier