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Defensive questions persist after Cincy loss

Standing in the bowels of Paul Brown Stadium late Friday night, Willie Taggart called his team's latest defensive collapse "a collective mistake by everyone, players and coaches."

For the fifth time in eight games, Taggart had watched an opponent gash his team for at least 300 yards in only a half. On Friday, it was backup QB Munchie Legaux and TB Rod Moore -- two seniors relegated to backup roles at the season's outset -- alternately slicing and dicing the Bulls as Cincinnati totaled 590 yards (328 after halftime) in its 34-17 romp.

Legaux, whose career was presumed dead when he suffered a grotesque knee injury two Septembers ago, finished 14-for-15 for 121 yards in relief of injured starter Gunner Kiel.

Moore, recently thrust into duty following injuries to a pair of other backs, ran for a career-best 212 yards on 19 carries, posting the school's best individual rushing effort in nearly four years.

"They got too much," Taggart said. "Never in a million years I thought they would rush for that many yards on us. We didn't do a good job of stopping the run and we didn't do a good job of stopping the pass. We just didn't play well defensively."

By the time Taggart uttered that concession, passionate deliberation about the root of USF's problems -- scheme or execution -- already had been renewed.

Is the pass rush insufficient in coordinator Chuck Bresnahan's new 3-4 look? How does a slot receiver (Shaq Washington) get isolated for a 9-yard catch on fourth-and-2 deep in Bulls territory? How can the Bulls continue getting gashed by backs who never will be mistaken for Heisman candidates?

As recently as Thursday, Taggart said the problem was rooted mainly in execution.

"At times, you've seen where the defense has stopped those spread offenses, so I think it's more execution than anything," he said.

"I think coaches can always do things better. ... I think it's executing and doing what we do better than what we've been doing. ... I go back to the East Carolina game. I mean, we held them to probably their lowest amount of offense (481 yards) in that game. These spread teams, you're going to give up some yards. They're pretty good for a reason...you just try to minimize how much you give up and try not to let them score touchdowns."

Eight games in, minimizing spread attacks -- much less mastering them -- has seemed too tall an order.

Another resurgent spread offense, Houston, comes to Raymond James Stadium in a week.

"At some point we had to buckle down and just get tough," linebacker Nigel Harris said Friday. "We failed to do that at times, so we've just got to get in the film room and just watch our assignments, see who did it right or wrong, just practice it and make it better." …

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Bearcats-Bulls: Click here for the coverage

The latest USF postmortem, and all its trimmings, have been consolidated right here for your convenience.

First, the game story from the Bulls' 34-17 defeat at Cincinnati, where the Bulls fumbled six times (losing two), were assessed 95 yards in penalties, and tied a school record by allowing 590 total yards.

Additionally, our notebook leads off with WR Andre Davis' latest school record (and eventual ejection), and some school marks established by TB Marlon Mack and OLB Nigel Harris.

Finally, we taped Coach Willie Taggart's postgame press conference. The video can be seen here.

 

 

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Football report: Defensive trio to return

In terms of personnel, the Bulls will be almost fully equipped to defend Cincinnati's 12th-ranked pass offense (322.8 ypg) Friday at Paul Brown Stadium.

CB Johnny Ward (ankle) is the only Bull not expected to play, Coach Willie Taggart said early Thursday afternoon. OLB Reshard Cliett (shoulder), CB Chris Dunkley (shoulder) and S Jamie Byrd (hip) are expected back after missing all or part of last weekend's win at Tulsa.

Freshman Kendall Sawyer, who appeared in five of the Bulls' first seven games, is listed as Ward's backup on USF's official depth chart.

Taggart said "it's hard to say" how long Ward will be sidelined. "We heal differently and hopefully he'll get back quick just like those other guys have," he added.

USF-WKU SERIES SET: USF announced a two-game home-and-home series Thursday with Western Kentucky, Taggart's alma mater. Whether Taggart still will be around nine years from now to coach in it remains anyone's guess. …

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Football report: Desperately seeking 60 minutes

Much like their mercurial offensive counterparts, who spent the first half at Tulsa in a stupor, the Bulls defense will try to deliver its first complete game in more than a month Friday night at Cincinnati.

USF's fronts and zone coverages were gashed for 20 points and 314 total first-half yards at Tulsa, but allowed only 174 yards and a field goal in the last 30 minutes.

The week before, in a 28-17 loss to East Carolina, the Pirates scored 21 unanswered second-half points after trailing 17-7 at intermission. In USF's 27-10 loss at Wisconsin, 315 of the Badgers' 454 yards occurred in the second half after the teams played to a 3-all halftime tie.

Defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan said the problem lies not in the Bulls' scheme, but the discipline used in employing it.

"And again, when I say execution, I don't point the fingers at the players for not executing, I'm talking about us from a coaching standpoint, everything," Bresnahan said.

"But again, they were tuned in, they listened to the adjustments, and the big thing was the explosive plays. In the first half I think we gave up five or six explosive plays. In the second half, only one (a 30-yard run). And that's the big difference in the game."

CONTAINING KIEL: Sophomore S Nate Godwin said the Bulls' game plan against prolific Cincinnati QB Gunner Kiel (1,853 passing yards, 19 TDs) will be similar to the one employed against East Carolina senior Shane Carden, who threw for a season-low 250 passing yards against USF.

"We've got to hit him," Godwin said. "He's a good quarterback and he makes good decisions, but we've got to hit him. I think that any quarterback, once they get hit, they get frustrated. We hit him, we talk to him, he gets frustrated, he'll make bad decisions."

ODDS AND ENDS: Dinged-up defensive starters Chris Dunkley (shoulder), Reshard Cliett (shoulder) and Jamie Byrd (hip) joined the first team in a walk-through portion of Wednesday's practice open to reporters. ... Friday's game is a homecoming of sorts for Bresnahan, who spent four years on the Bengals staff 2004-07, serving as defensive coordinator for three. Receivers coach Ron Dugans played for the Bengals from '00-03 and was an assistant in '07. "That's a great organization," Bresnahan said. "(Owner) Mike Brown and the family are just tremendous. ... They're all great people. (Coach) Marvin (Lewis) and the staff are still close friends." ... LB Nigel Harris offered a bit more detail on his recent shoulder injury, saying someone landed on it during a fumble recovery against Maryland. He returned for the Tulsa game after sitting out one contest, but stopped short of proclaiming himself 100 percent. "Good enough to play, I can say."

AUDIBLE: "I was a freshman, so coming out there I was just looking for that impact play to get me started, and I think that play kind of woke me up a little bit and just made me feel more confident. It just kind of opened up my career a little bit and after that play, I felt like I was more loose and...made a lot of plays the rest of the season." -- Godwin on his 75-yard TD return of Mike McFarland's blocked Cincinnati field goal in last year's 26-20 upset of the Bearcats.

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Football report: Scowl earned White second chance

Upon telling starter Mike White at halftime Saturday that he was contemplating a quarterback change, Coach Willie Taggart said the sophomore responded with one of his most effectives signal of the day.

A scowl.

It was all Taggart needed to make a decision. White started the second half against Tulsa and the rest is, quite literally, history.

"I was impressed," Taggart said Tuesday. "If he would have put his head down and pouted, I probably wouldn't have put him back in. But he looked at me like, 'To (heck) with you, Coach,' and I liked that.

"I want our quarterback to be that way and it meant something to him. Sure enough, we gave him a chance and he took advantage of it."

Did he ever. White, 7-for-12 for 61 yards and a pick-six in the first 30 minutes, sparkled (10-for-14, 211 yards, three TDs) in the second half to rally the Bulls to a 38-30 victory. White was awarded the game ball for helping lead USF to the program's biggest come-from-behind triumph.

"He was looking for that fire and that passion that I really didn't have in the first half ..." White said. "I think it showed once I got passionate, we all played one heck of a second half." …

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Know the foe: Cincinnati

First-year Cincinnati QB Gunner Kiel has 19 TD passes in six games.

JOEL AUERBACH | Getty Images

First-year Cincinnati QB Gunner Kiel has 19 TD passes in six games.

A look at Cincinnati, which hosts the Bulls on Friday at Paul Brown Stadium

Nickname: Bearcats

Record: 3-3, 1-1 American Athletic Conference (Wins -- Toledo, 58-33; Miami [Ohio], 31-24; SMU, 41-3; Losses -- Ohio State, 50-28; Memphis, 41-14; Miami, 55-34)

Coach: Tommy Tuberville (second season at UC, 12-7; 19th season overall, 142-84)

The breakdown: Behind first-year starter Gunner Kiel, the nation's most coveted prep quarterback once upon a time, Cincinnati boasts the conference's second-best offense (443 ypg, 34.3 ppg) behind East Carolina. Problem is, the Bearcats haven't been able to tackle a soul. Their rushing defense (242.3 ypg) ranks last in the league and 119th nationally, and has allowed five individual 100-yard rushing efforts in six games. Part of the problem involves injuries; Cincy is woefully thin at linebacker and veteran nickel back Adrian Witty (groin) has been out since the season opener. The backfield also has been besieged physically. As a team, UC has 721 rushing yards, six fewer than Bulls TB Marlon Mack. Kiel, who transferred from Notre Dame after being buried on the depth chart, has thrown for 1,853 yards and 19 TDs in six games. Six of his receivers have at least 13 catches including Jefferson High alumnus Chris Moore (18 catches, 421 yards, five TDs), who teamed with USF's Andre Davis to help lead the Dragons to a 2010 state title. 

Odds and ends: Kiel's backup, junior college transfer Jarred Evans, has been suspended following his arrest for allegedly punching a man at a party in Sunday's wee hours. ... Among the keys to Kiel's success has been a highly seasoned offensive line. LT Eric Lefeld made his 40th career start at SMU, while RG Parker Ehinger made his 30th. ... If there is a reliable tackler on defense, it's LB Jeff Luc, whose 12.5 stops per game ranks fourth in Division I.

Taggart's take: "(Kiel) is really good. He can throw the football and he's starting to run the ball a little more now. But they have some guys to throw the ball to as well that make plays for them down the field. Very explosive offensively, and on defense...I see them very similar from an
athletic standpoint to (East Carolina). They have a lot of guys that can run and make plays."

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Football notebook: AAC honors Davis

Less than 48 hours after his record-setting day in USF's historic comeback win at Tulsa, senior WR Andre Davis was named offensive player of the week by both the American Athletic Conference and collegesportsmadness.com.

It was the first AAC player-of-the-week honor for Davis (six receptions, 154 yards, three TDs), who eclipsed Carlton Mitchell's school record with his sixth career 100-yard receiving effort. He's now tied with DeAndrew Rubin for USF's all-time record for TD receptions (14).

His 85-yard scoring catch -- in single coverage -- in the fourth quarter tied for the second-longest pass play in school history.

"I told (the coaches) in the first half they were gonna match me up one-on-one," Davis said after Saturday's game. "That's what I love."

Senior DT Elkino Watson (seven tackles, one sack, 3.5 tackles for loss at Tulsa) made the league's five-player honor roll.

INJURY REPORT: Coach Willie Taggart said S Jamie Byrd (hip), CB/KR/PR Chris Dunkley (shoulder) and OLB Reshard Cliett (shoulder) all practiced Sunday afternoon. Dunkley and Cliett sat out Saturday's game; Byrd exited during the contest. "Day by day they're getting better," Taggart said.

ANOTHER AFTERNOON KICK: The conference announced USF's Nov. 1 home game against Houston will kick off at 4 p.m., and will be broadcast live on ESPNews. For those scoring at home, three of the Bulls' first six home contests will kick off at 4 or earlier. No time has been set for the Nov. 28 showdown with UCF.

MACK ON TRACK: After his 130-yard, two-TD effort at Tulsa, freshman TB Marlon Mack finds himself on pace to become only the third 1,000-yard rusher in USF history within a month.

Mack enters Friday night's game at Cincinnati ranked 23rd nationally in rushing (133 carries, 727 yards, 103.9-yard average). He needs only 46 yards against the Bearcats -- 119th nationally against the run (242.3 ypg) -- to eclipse B.J. Daniels' 5-year-old freshman rushing record (772).

ODDS AND ENDS: After film review, LB Nigel Harris was credited with USF's lone forced fumble at Tulsa, giving him four on the year, which ties the school record. ... Since Davis' return from a bruised sternum, USF's offense has averaged 381 yards its last two games. In its first five, it averaged 233. ... The Bulls' 38 points at Tulsa were their most in a road game since 2008, and their most in a conference road game since '07. ... After another sparkling effort at Tulsa (five attempts, 46.4-yard average), junior Mattias Ciabatti has moved up to ninth nationally in punting (45.6).

AUDIBLE: "I think they're just knowing their scheme better. ... They move formations quite a bit, they do a good job with it. Last year it looked like they even confused themselves a little bit by doing all of it. But it takes a while to get that in and they've done a very good job of just sticking with it." -- Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville, when asked where it appears USF has improved the most from 2013

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Taggart giving cold shoulder to weather concerns

After a series of sermons warning against mental fatigue, Coach Willie Taggart now is preaching about the dangers of mental frostbite.

Which is to say, he doesn't want his players dwelling on the potentially cold conditions awaiting them Friday night in Cincinnati.

"We've just got to play football," Taggart said on the American Athletic Conference coaches teleconference Monday. "We can't get caught up in that. ... We've got to play in it, they've got to play in it. I don't buy that 'getting used to it' or not."

The Bulls (3-4, 2-1 AAC), who have not kicked off in weather below 58 degrees all year, could face some noticeable frigidness at Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium. Friday's projected low for the area is 43 degrees, according to The Weather Channel. …

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USF-Tulsa: Click here for coverage

USF athletic director Mark Harlan congratulates S Jamie Byrd following the Bulls' 38-30 win at Tulsa.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

USF athletic director Mark Harlan congratulates S Jamie Byrd following the Bulls' 38-30 win at Tulsa.

You're one-stop shopping locale for the greatest comeback victory in USF history can be found here.

All of the Tampa Bay Times' coverage from the Bulls' 38-30 win at Tulsa has been consolidated on this post. First, our game story, with Coach Willie Taggart's halftime message to his resurgent team.

Next, our Bulls-Hurricane notebook, highlighted by Taggart's account of how Patriots QB Tom Brady just might have inspired Mike White's dazzling second-half effort (211 passing yards, three TDs).

Additionally, we offer our sights and sounds, tweets and talking points from the historic afternoon.

And for good measure, we recorded the postgame interviews with White and top target Andre Davis.

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Bulls alumnus headed back to Series

USF alumnus Dave Eiland is pitching coach for the World Series-bound Royals.

Times file photo

USF alumnus Dave Eiland is pitching coach for the World Series-bound Royals.

In at least one inconspicuous way, USF will be represented on baseball's grandest stage.

Kansas City Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland, who spent two seasons with the Bulls (1986-87) after transferring from the University of Florida, seeks his second World Series ring when his club faces San Francisco in the upcoming Fall Classic. A Zephyrhills native, Eiland served in the same capacity when the Yankees won the world championship in 2009.

Eiland made 17 starts for the '86 Bulls club that reached the NCAA Tournament, and led the team in innings pitched (107) the following season. He spent parts of 10 seasons in the majors, compiling a 12-27 mark primarily as a starter.

His Royals staff posted the 12th-best collective ERA in baseball (3.51) in the regular season,  and lowered it to 2.92 in its four-game sweep of Baltimore in the American League Championship Series.

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Football report: 'Horns-Bulls series confirmed

The worst-kept secret on Fowler Avenue became official Thursday when USF confirmed an agreement in principle with Texas to play a three-game series in 2019, '22 and '24.

With approval from the University of Texas System Board of Regents next month, the Bulls are slated travel to Austin on Aug. 31, 2019 and Sept. 7, 2024, and host the Longhorns in their season opener on Sept. 3, 2022. It will be the first meetings between the programs.

Texas will pay USF $1.2 million for the final game in Tampa, ESPN reported.

“The University of Texas is one of the most recognizable and tradition-rich brands in college football and we are excited to be able to bring the Longhorn football program to Tampa,” USF athletic director Mark Harlan said in a statement.

Last month, USF announced home-and-home series with Syracuse ('15-16), Northern Illinois ('16-17) and BYU ('21-22). ESPN first reported the Texas series last month, and American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco essentially confirmed it while meeting with reporters at Raymond James Stadium prior to last week's East Carolina-USF game.

MEDICAL MATTERS: Coach Willie Taggart said the prognosis of LB Reshard Cliett's and CB Chris Dunkley's undisclosed shoulder injuries continues to improve, and he's "hoping" both will be healthy enough to play against Tulsa on Saturday. "At first, we didn't think they would," Taggart said. "But they're getting better daily."

O-LINE OUTLOOK GOOD: With three senior starting offensive linemen -- C Austin Reiter, LT Darrell Williams and RG Quinterrius Eatmon -- departing at season's end, plenty of questions loom about whether the team will have the personnel to replace them.

Taggart, however, isn't worried. In addition to a pair of returning starters, LG Thor Jozwiak and RT Brynjar Gudmundsson, the Bulls are in seemingly good hands with up-and-comers such as former Jesuit standout Cameron Ruff and sophomore Dominique Threatt.

Additionally, Stanford transfer Reilly Gibbons, a former four-star recruit from St. Pete Catholic, could slide in at a tackle position if he is cleared to play in 2015 by the NCAA.

"I think we're building some really good depth," Taggart said. "I think those guys have gotten so much better and, to be honest with you, I think those guys are pushing our starting guys."

AUDIBLE: "I think that must-win games started (in the opener) against Western Carolina. For us and our football team, every game we play in is a must-win to try and get our team back to where everybody wants it and back to winning. This is just the next football game that we're playing. ... We can't just isolate one game or another. I don't think that's the culture or the way we want to do things around here." -- Taggart when asked if he considers Saturday's game a must-win for the Bulls.

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Bresnahan taking second-half woes 'personally'

While Coach Willie Taggart suggests the root of his team's recent second-half funks lies between his players' ears, defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan has been looking elsewhere.

Primarily, in the mirror.

On Wednesday, Bresnahan said he has been taking his unit's second-half execution failures personally, assuming blame for the Bulls not being in the proper run fits or coverage schemes during their two-game skid. Wisconsin and East Carolina both totaled more than 300 second-half yards in their victories against USF.

"When you come out in the first series of the second half and you've got (ECU) at first-and-20 and then first-and-30 in the first drive, and then they score a touchdown, that's unacceptable," Bresnahan said.

"And I start with myself, look in the mirror and say, 'What can we do better to get our guys to come out of the locker room and play with the same intensity?' Because they played lights-out for the first half in Wisconsin, lights-out for the first half last week, then we give up a series of plays."

TULSA TIME: While Tulsa (1-5) clearly doesn't have the success or seasoning of 18th-ranked East Carolina, Bresnahan said the Golden Hurricane have proven capable not only of stretching the field, but remaining on it.

Tulsa has run more offensive plays (514) than the Pirates (455), who also have played six games. While QB Dane Evans (138-for-250, 1,627 yards) has thrown nine picks, Bresnahan said the 6-foot-2 sophomore has improved each week.

"They can run the ball (141.2 ypg), and then they've got a quarterback that can make all the throws," Bresnahan said.

"He's got a very strong arm. Accuracy at times can be a little off, but he's a competitor and they're going to stretch the field again on us, so that's important to understand. ... Very similar to what we saw against ECU. A little bit different approach to it, but the same style."

QUINTON'S CAMEOS: While the first-quarter insertion of freshman QB Quinton Flowers against East Carolina left some fans puzzled, Taggart indicated Tuesday the dual-threat rookie's game reps will continue. The Bulls went three-and-out -- on three run plays -- on Flowers' lone series.

"We're trying to get him in there and find ways to...get the ball to him in his hands," Taggart said. "I think as we continue to go you'll start to see that in a lot of different ways. ... But he's a guy that can help produce some more offense, something that we need, and we've got to keep finding ways to do that."

ODDS AND ENDS: All three banged-up defensive starters -- CB Chris Dunkley (shoulder) OLB Reshard Cliett (shoulder) and WLB Nigel Harris (ankle) -- suited up for Wednesday's practice, staged in shorts, helmets and shoulder pads. ... Two walk-on quarterbacks, Purdue transfer Austin Parker and Ocala Vanguard alum Adam Robles, have been added to the roster. Robles threw six TD passes against crosstown rival Forest as a junior, breaking a school mark held by Daunte Culpepper. ... Senior Elkino Watson said Wednesday he already has lined up at all three spots on the defensive line, including one play at nose tackle. ... Because some of the Bulls' shifts and routes were being thrown off by the added markings at Raymond James Stadium, their practice fields have been lined exactly the same as RayJay's -- down to the last hash.

AUDIBLE: "It may be hard to hear at this point in time at 2-4, but this team is getting better. And I'm excited about where we're at. Am I disappointed with the overall record? Yeah, but not discouraged." -- Bresnahan

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Envelopes, please: Honoring the best of Bulls' opening half

At this stage, freshman TB Marlon Mack may be not only the Bulls' top rookie, but the team MVP.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

At this stage, freshman TB Marlon Mack may be not only the Bulls' top rookie, but the team MVP.

We're here at halftime of the Bulls' 2014 season, polishing off our nachos and listening to the Herd of Thunder's horn-drenched riffs resonate through the humid air. Elbow room, as you might expect, is at a surplus here in our section. …

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One year in, White finding comfort level

Eleven games into his career as a starter, sophomore QB Mike White said he feels he finally can shed the "young" label from his name.

Though the Bulls have won only twice since White made his first start in a nationally televised 35-23 loss at Houston last Oct. 31, the Fort Lauderdale native said Tuesday he has learned a lot during the last 12 months and feels like he's progressing well.

"I've pretty much played a full season now and I'm starting to get the grasp of things and feel comfortable," said White, seventh in Division I in passing yards per completion (15.43).

"Sometimes, I feel like I make kind of stupid mistakes, young mistakes that I've got to get out of. But I'm experienced now."

In six games (five as a starter) in 2013, White threw for 1,083 yards, three TDs and nine interceptions. This season, he is 53-for-121 for 818 yards, three TDs and four picks.

"He was thrown into the fire (last season) and when I say thrown into the fire, it's not like he got a lot of reps in training camp or a lot of reps during the week," Coach Willie Taggart said. "He was throwing the ball with scout team and servicing our defense.

"Not only was it new for him, but for everyone else too. So he didn't really stand a chance to be very successful at that point. ... He still needs more experience and more time, but I think he's so much better because of those games he played in last year."

MEDICAL MATTERS: Taggart said he expects sophomore WLB Nigel Harris (ankle) to play on Saturday against Tulsa after missing the East Carolina game. Additionally, LB Reshard Cliett and CB/KR/PR Chris Dunkley -- both of whom have unspecified shoulder injuries -- are day-to-day, Taggart said.

PART OF THE PLAN: It is no fluke that FB Kennard Swanson has played a bigger role in the Bulls' offense the last two games.

The redshirt freshman had two catches for 74 yards against Wisconsin on Sept. 27, including one for 51 yards before a fumble. Against East Carolina on Saturday, Swanson had five carries for 23 yards and one reception for 16.

"That was a position we felt like we didn't have last year, so you didn't see it as much then," Taggart said. "He's a guy that, not only can he run the ball, not only can he block, but he's really good at catching the football. He's got really soft hands out of the backfield.

"To me, for us to be the football team that we want to be, it starts with that guy. The fullback."

ODDS AND ENDS: White said he did not have any pain while playing without the rubber splint on his fractured left forearm against ECU. He said doctors have told him he's close to 100-percent healthy. ... Former Bulls defensive end and 49ers rookie LB Aaron Lynch recorded his first career sack against the Rams on Monday night.

AUDIBLE: "The goals we set back in the offseason are still ahead of us and it starts with this game. We can't go to a bowl game without winning this game. We can't win a conference championship without starting and winning this game. So each week, we're going to go with a week-by-week basis and that's what it's going to take." -- White on whether Tulsa is considered a must-win for the Bulls.

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Know the foe: Tulsa

Tulsa sophomore QB Dane Evans leads the Golden Hurricane into Saturday's contest against USF.

Jack Dempsey | AP photo

Tulsa sophomore QB Dane Evans leads the Golden Hurricane into Saturday's contest against USF.

A look at Tulsa, which hosts the Bulls on Saturday at H.A. Chapman Stadium

Nickname: Golden Hurricane

Record: 1-5, 1-1 American Athletic Conference (Win -- Tulane, 38-31 2OT; Losses -- Oklahoma, 52-7; Florida Atlantic, 50-21; Texas State, 37-34 3OT; Colorado State, 42-17; Temple, 35-24)

Coach: Bill Blankenship (fourth season, 23-22)

The breakdown: Few teams are greener than the Golden Hurricane, who have played eight true freshmen, 10 redshirt freshmen and 22 sophomores this season. ... While USF has struggled mightily to finish games, Tulsa doesn't seem to know where to begin. The Hurricane have been outscored 141-42 in the first half this season, with that deficit narrowing considerably (106-99) after halftime. ... Though three of its 11 seniors start in the secondary, Tulsa has been woefully susceptible to the big play, allowing 28 of 30-plus yards (including 11 TDs). ... Sophomore WR Keevan Lucas is having a monster year (53 catches, 649 yards, seven TDs) highlighted by a 13-catch, 233-yard performance against Tulane. ... Defensively, veteran junior "bandit" back Michael Mudoh (53 tackles) is the bellcow.

Odds and ends: Tulsa has the smallest enrollment of all Division I programs (3,429). By contrast, USF has 45,074 students. ... Blankenship is one of 12 Division I coaches serving as head coach at their alma mater. ... Among Tulsa's prominent football alumni is Bucs coach Lovie Smith.

QB Mike White's take: "I would say that this game is going to be a really aggressive and physical game. Up front, they do a lot of things. They stunt, they kind of time up their blitzes well, so I think that's going to be a huge aspect -- the physical part of it. I think they're constantly
getting better. ... They play for their coach. They play hard."

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