The USF offense was dreadful against Cincinnati last week. Mike White had issues handling the snap and threw 2 interceptions in the game. Steven Bench came in late and threw two touchdowns, helping the Bulls put some points on the board. Entering the week Coach Taggart said the quarterback position was open. He was looking for someone who could get the job done. But the question still remains, who will it be?
Looking back, the quarterback position was open to enter the season with both Mike White and Steven Bench battling for the starting job. In the end, White won the position and got the first starts of the season. White had his ups and downs throughout the course of the year, but there were several factors during that time. White battled injury, no Andre Davis, and a shaky offensive line. Yet despite all of that, he was able to put together some solid games, the best being his 2nd half performance on the road against Tulsa. He threw 3 touchdowns and helped the Bulls rally for their largest comeback victory in program history. It felt as if White had taken the next step as a quarterback, something the USF faithful had been waiting for, but the performance against Cincinnati quickly had the fans shaking their heads again.
White struggled with 4 turnovers (2 fumbles, 2 interceptions) leading to Coach Taggart sitting him and replacing him with Steven Bench. Bench came in and played well in limited action leading to the open competition this week for the starting spot. So who will get the job this week? Let’s look at the numbers of each QB (including Quinton Flowers) and see if we can determine (through logic) who will be the starter.
Let’s start with Mike White. White is 81 for 166 for 1182 yards this season including 6 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He is completing 48.8% of his throws and has a efficiency rating of 112 (7.12 yards per pass attempt). White has had his ups and downs this season. Injuries to both the offensive line, his receivers, and himself have hurt his consistency. Yet despite that, he has shown flashes of being a solid quarterback. The 2nd half performance against Tulsa can’t be dismissed, but the first half has to be remembered as well. The Tulsa game, in my opinion sums up Mike White. At times he struggles badly. Locking onto receivers, missing throws (throw or over-throws), not moving in the pocket well, and not delivering strong passes to open targets. Then we also see the talent in brief flashes. We see throws that are accurate and perfectly thrown, the ability to move the in the pocket, and strong mechanics to put balls in great locations. We see the tools and talent, but then we also see the costly mistakes and turnovers that hurt a stagnant offense. The quarterback position can’t afford those mistakes, especially when the margin is so slim for the unit. This is one of the biggest reasons Coach Taggart is re-evaluating both White and Steven Bench this week before he names a starter. Is Steven Bench a better option over Mike at this stage of the year?
Bench is 24 for 51 for 319 yards including 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. He has completed 47% of this throws this year with a 108 efficiency rating (6.26 yards per attempt). Bench has also run the ball 7 times and has a rushing touchdown. Bench has taken less snaps this season, but has seen game action and has done decently in limited time. Bench had a big spring game and was head to head with White for the starting job before the sophomore won out to start the year.
Bench is much more mobile than White but has been inaccurate in his brief stints on the field. If he can limit mistakes and move the Bulls down the field on offense, then he would be able to get the job. Yet, we haven’t seen that yet. Can he run the offense? Yes. Can he run and make some plays that White can’t? Yes he can. Can he throw for accuracy down the field like White can at times? We just don’t know yet.
Some are asking for freshman Quinton Flowers. The young signal caller is just 1 of 4 on the year for 7 yards on the year and has thrown 2 interceptions. He does 7 carries for 36 yards, showing his ability to run, but he is still a work in process in the passing game. Many are puzzled by the coaches decision to burn his redshirt and just use him as a running option and I would have to think that wasn’t their ultimate plan. I believe the coaches wanted to get him on the field, use him more running and help him learn along the way, not having try to win games with both his arm and legs. Flowers is getting 3rd team reps but is far behind in the playbook and not a real option at quarterback this week vs. Houston if the Bulls want to stand a chance. I want to see him play, but it would be throwing him to the wolves like White was last year. We all know how well the offense looked a year ago.
So to me and from the practice reports its between White and Bench for the starting job (Flowers still a wild card). Yes, Flowers could somehow get on the field and Evan Wilson and others are there, but the real battle again is White vs. Bench, just like it was in the fall and back in the spring.
Both quarterbacks are capable of playing. Mike White brings the traditional quarterback that Coach Taggart wants. A tall, strong arm signal caller that delivers the ball down the field. However, the mistakes, bad throws, and bad decisions have hurt him. Steven Bench is more mobile and adds a new wrinkle to the offense, but can he read the defense quickly and can he make the long, deep throws that the west coast style offense is known for?
We won’t know who the starting QB is probably until the team breaks the huddle on Saturday and both QBs will be with Taggart right before they take the field, waiting till the last second before a starter emerges. If the reports from practice indicate (thanks to Jeff Odom at the Tampa Bay Times for tweeting out reports of it), Steven Bench has been getting a lot of the first team snaps this week. Mike White has taken snaps as well, but the increase of snaps for Bench could mean the coaching staff is really looking at Bench as an answer for this week.
If I had to guess, based off of everything, I would have to think Steven Bench is the starter for this game. He has shown signs of life, can move, and if he can carry over that spark he had against Cincinnati, then it could be interesting on Saturday. I think Mike White is right there with him, but the coaches are going to give Bench a chance and see what happens.