USF is doing something a little different for its spring game this year, hoping to build off the energy and new competitive attitude coach Willie Taggart has brought with him from Western Kentucky.
On Tuesday, I told you a little bit about how the Green team was selected. Today, we give you a little insight into how assistant Ron Cooper chose his White team. With his first two free-agent picks, Cooper decided to go with center Austin Reiter and defensive end Aaron Lynch, the transfer from Notre Dame who will be eligible come fall. From there, Cooper decided to go with some of the key returning starters off the team from a season ago.
So linebacker DeDe Lattimore was the first pick. Cooper also selected safety Mark Joyce, linebacker Reshard Cliett and defensive tackle Elkino Watson. Cooper also snagged the top two running backs in Marcus Shaw and Mike Pierre, believing the key to the win will be establishing the run.
That has been a major area of emphasis this spring.
"Coach [Walt] Wells definitely has a different style of coaching the O-line," Reiter said. "It’s more power style. He wants us more pushing people vertical. With [former] Coach [Steve] Shankweiler and their system, it was more of a zone-read type of offense. We are learning different kind of techniques. A lot of the change is terminology, and going from a spread style offense. I think the guys are doing a good job of picking things up."
Cooper saw first-hand what type of physical power run game Taggart wants to establish, while serving as an assistant at LSU. The Tigers played Western Kentucky and Taggart never wavered in trying to establish the run.
"They didn’t care who they were playing against," Cooper said. "They ran the ball and ran their offense. That's one of the things I really like about Coach Taggart. The running game is so important, as we were making our picks there was no doubt in my mind if we could get both the running backs, we would. This is a game of being physical. If you look at the national championship game the last couple of years, it’s come down to who’s going to run the ball. We’re going to keep building and keep getting better."
Now that the teams are set, the intensity during practice has been kicked up a notch. Each group got 30 minutes to work together during practices this week to prepare for the big game. The winning team gets steak for dinner. The losing team gets hot dogs.
Every little bit of extra motivation helps.