By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA – The season opener can’t get here fast enough for the USF defense that finally gets to do something for real after months of training with the new staff.
“I’m excited to see where we’re at and I’m excited these guys get to go out and display what they’ve worked so hard for from when we got here in December and January,” defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan said before practice Wednesday.
USF’s first test begins 7 p.m. Saturday and the Bulls know extending their season opener win streak to 12 at Raymond James Stadium certainly won’t be easy. McNeese State has posted eight straight winning seasons and much of its recent success can be attributed to an offense that can attack a team in a number of different ways.
It all starts with senior quarterback Cody Stroud, a third-year starter, who ranks sixth in the school history books in passing yards (4,697) and touchdown passes (31). Stroud threw 19 TD passes last season and only five interceptions in 278 attempts while the McNeese State offense racked up 413 yards per game on the way to a 7-4 finish.
“The quarterback makes excellent decisions in the passing game. He also controls the run game really well, so we’ve got our hands full,” Bresnahan said.
Another strength for McNeese State is at running back with three of the team’s top four rushers back in the mix after helping the Cowboys rank 18th nationally with 209.5 rushing yards per game last season. Seniors Marcus Wiltz and Javaris Murray combined for 1,155 yards and nine touchdowns while the Cowboys went 6-0 when rushing for more than 200 yards in a game.
“They have very good, skilled position players and we’re going to have to bring our ‘A’ game,” Bresnahan said.
Bullock Earns Starting Spot
Zack Bullock has earned the Bulls’ strongside linebacker spot but the redshirt sophomore is still acting like the job is very much up for grabs.
“It’s a great honor to get the nudge at the end, but I still have to prove myself and earn it every day,” Bullock said. “It doesn’t mean anything that I got it. It could change before the game or it could change today, so I’ve got to keep working.”
Consistency is a word the USF offense uses quite often – especially at quarterback – and Bresnahan said the same trait was the ultimate deciding factor in going with Bullock, who appeared in nine games last season as a linebacker and a special teams player.
“You can’t ride the rollercoaster,” Bresnahan said. “You can’t be up and down, one day good and one day bad. You have to be consistently good and every day get a little bit better. He’s done a good job of that.”
Salinas Rewarded for Hard Work and Patience
Three years of hard work have paid off for senior Brandon Salinas.
The former walk-on was happy to find out last weekend he’ll be one of USF’s two starting cornerbacks on top of being put on scholarship after sitting out last season.
“What a great person; He’s high value, works hard and paid his way,” defensive backs coach Ron Cooper said. “He was here in summer. I don’t know if he even missed a workout on his own. Coach Taggart did what he said: ‘If they do something they’ll get on scholarship,’ and I guess he did something.”
Eppes Sticks at Fullback
Ryan Eppes has been a lot of things since joining the Bulls as a walk-on in 2009.
The former quarterback out of Largo High School started his college career taking snaps before he was moved to linebacker and the redshirt senior has finally found his niche at fullback.
“I have been bounced around. It really just comes down to where I can fit best and help the team out. Fullback was that position this year,” said Eppes, who is listed at the top of the depth chart.
Eppes looked like a QB when he first headed to USF at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds and fits the fullback mold quite well now that he’s all the way up to 235.
“I’ve stuck my nose in the weight room,” he said. “The guys are getting bigger and better every day in college, so you have to grind to be at the top. The weight room has kind of become a second home off the field for me.”
Join the Bulls Stampede
USF’s new team walk has an official name thanks to lots of feedback from Bulls fans.
Saturday will mark the first-ever Bulls Stampede at Raymond James Stadium starting at approximately 4:30 p.m. when the USF football team gets off the bus in the Bulls Zone located between gates C and D. Fans are encouraged to greet the Bulls and cheer them on as they head down the pedestrian walkway to the stadium gates.
Fans can start parking at the stadium at 2 p.m. and stadium gates will open 90 minutes before kickoff.
“It’s a nice tradition and we want it to be big-time, but it can’t be big-time just by us showing up. We need our fans there,” head coach Willie Taggart said. “Hopefully everyone embraces the new tradition because we’re excited to start something new.”