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Taggart: I saw no dirty play vs. UM

TAMPA -- Two days after his team was labeled "dirty" by Miami QB Stephen Morris, Coach Willie Taggart said he has found nothing lending credence to that accusation.

Morris called the Bulls "a dirty team" following the Hurricanes' 49-21 victory Saturday at Raymond James Stadium. He indicated when the 'Canes were "down and tackled and everything," the Bulls defensive players were "going to try to go for your ankles."

"I heard (Morris' accusations) and went back and watched the entire game and I did not see that one bit," Taggart said Monday on the American Athletic Conference's weekly coaches teleconference.

"If anyone could show me where our guys did anything dirty, I would really like to see it because we don't teach that. That's not our football team."

PRESSING ON: Saturday night's USF-Cincinnati game at Raymond James Stadium will be the Bearcats' first since a single-car crash two weekends ago that killed two people including Cincy OL Ben Flick.

Receiver Mark Barr, among two others injured, remains in "very serious condition," Coach Tommy Tuberville said Monday.

"I've really not known how to handle this, even though I've been in this business 36 years and went through several deaths on football teams," Tuberville added. "This is different because there's a lot of uncertainty that's still left out there.

"I think our players have done a good job considering what they've gone through. ... I learn every day. Again, there's no right or wrong way to approach this, you've just got to understand the situation and accept it because this is life, and life at its worst."

ANOTHER NOON KICKOFF: The conference announced Monday the Bulls' Oct. 12 game at Connecticut will kick off at noon and be broadcast on ESPN3. It will be the Huskies' first game since the dismissal of Coach Paul Pasqualoni, fired Monday after an 0-4 start.

ODDS AND ENDS: Taggart said senior DE Tevin Mims is questionable for the Cincinnati game after "brusing up" a leg against Miami. ... RB Marcus Shaw, who ran for 127 yards Saturday, made the AAC weekly honor roll. Shaw enters the Cincinnati game ranked 10th nationally in rushing yards per game (131.3).

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Full disclosure: My latest AP ballot

Listed below are the nation's top 25 teams according to the ballot I sent to the Associated Press this morning. A brief overview of the ballot:

Ole Miss, Notre Dame and Wisconsin exited, while Maryland, Virginia Tech and Arizona State entered. LSU and Georgia -- fifth and ninth, respectively, last week -- essentially switched spots following the Bulldogs' 44-41 win against the Tigers.

Oklahoma State fell from No. 14 to 23 after losing to West Virginia.

And keeping Alabama at No. 1 was the easiest decision to make.

1. Alabama
2. Oregon
3. Clemson
4. Ohio State
5. Stanford
6. Georgia
7. FSU
8. Louisville
9. LSU
10. Texas A&M
11. South Carolina
12. Oklahoma
13. UCLA
14. Miami
15. Washington
16. Northwestern
17. Michigan
18. Baylor
19. Florida
20. Arizona State
21. Virginia Tech
22. Maryland
23. Oklahoma State
24. Texas Tech
25. Fresno State


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Video: Four inducted into USF sports Hall of Fame

Watch video of former USF quarterback Marquel Blackwell, the Bulls' all-time leading passer; Bobby Paschal, the Bulls' all-time winningest men's basketball coach; former All-American and major-leaguer Chris Heintz; and Dayana Octavien, who holds school records in three track events, being inducted into USF's sports Hall of Fame.


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Saturday: USF-Miami in-game chat, noon

USF head coach Willie Taggart calls in a play to quarterback Steven Bench during the Bulls' loss to Florida Atlantic.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF head coach Willie Taggart calls in a play to quarterback Steven Bench during the Bulls' loss to Florida Atlantic.

Join the conversation as the Times' Joey Knight chats live throughout Saturday's USF-Miami game, beginning at noon. Follow along, and add your comments and/or questions if you like. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Reminder: Chat with Joey Knight and Greg Auman, 12:30 p.m.

A reminder that the Times' Joey Knight and Greg Auman will be chatting live today, starting at 12:30 p.m. Want to talk about how the Bulls will do against 15th-ranked Miami? How Steven Bench might fare as the starting quarterback? The job Willie Taggart has done so far? Whatever's on your mind, we want to hear from you.

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Video: USF-Miami preview

Times beat reporter Joey Knight previews Saturday's game between USF and Miami at Raymond James Stadium in this video report.

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Thursday: Chat with Joey Knight and Greg Auman, 12:30

Joey Knight, left, and Greg Auman, right, will be chatting live Thursday, starting at 12:30 p.m.

Times files

Joey Knight, left, and Greg Auman, right, will be chatting live Thursday, starting at 12:30 p.m.

What's the only thing better than a USF chat with Greg Auman? A USF chat with Greg Auman AND Joey Knight. With USF preparing to play Miami on Saturday, our outgoing and incoming beat reporters are tag-teaming to take your questions about the team Thursday, starting at 12:30 p.m. How will the Bulls do against the 15th-ranked Hurricanes? How do you feel about Steven Bench as the starting quarterback? What do you think of the job Willie Taggart has done so far? We want to hear what's on your mind.

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Bench bonus: More on USF's new QB

A few leftover morsels from our profile of new USF starting QB Steven Bench, who leads the Bulls into Saturday's home game against No. 15 Miami:

* He and his dad both are named Steven, but possess different middle names. Steven Lindale Bench says his son, Steven Eugene, is middle-named after his grandfathers.

* The night before every game, Bench neatly lays out every article of clothing and equipment he'll wear the next day, from jerseys to pants to girdles to mouthpieces.

"That's how he'd go about his business every Thursday night (in high school)," said Steven Lindale Bench, who recently retired after 3 1/2 decades as a prep football coach.

"In my experience over 30 years, there are a lot of guys that get on that bus, and don't have everything they're supposed to have."

* According to the elder Bench, son and dad were not recruited from Bainbridge High to nearby Cairo for Steven's senior year. To the contrary, Steven Lindale Bench says, he was offered an assistant's job at Cairo in 2011, but wouldn't move without his son.

"I left it completely up to him, because I wasn't about to move him his senior year," the dad said. "I did that as a senior in high school; that's tough.

"I said, 'Look, if you want to go I'll take this job. If you don't want to go we'll stay right here and run the veer and be successful and all those things.' Athletically, he was real excited about going. He made that decision quickly."

* The elder Bench, not an advocate of kids playing football prior to puberty, nonetheless allowed Steven to compete for a local travel team at age 9 because a lot of his friends were on the team. Its first game: in the Georgia Dome, at halftime of a Falcons contest.

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Koepka wins Rees Jones Invite, Bulls second

After 54 holes on Daufuskie Island, S.C., the chase for Chase has ended in futility for 11 teams -- and nearly in triumph for USF.

Sophomore Chase Koepka led essentially wire to wire to capture medalist honors at the three-day Rees Jones Collegiate Invitational. Koepka's final-round 74 Tuesday put him at 4-under for the tournament, four shots ahead of UNC-Wilmington's Payne McLeod.

As a team, the Bulls finished tied for second with a three-day 887, two shots behind Kennesaw State. USF led by four entering the final round, but had no player shoot better than Keopka's 74 in the final round.

Koepka, Big East Championship runner-up last spring, opened the event with a 4-under 68 and never looked back.

“Winning a tournament is a hard thing to do, and for him to win it in the first event this year is a good sign of things to come,” Coach Chris Malloy told gousfbulls.com. “He’s a good model and example for the rest of the guys."

 

 

 

 

 

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Taggart's forecast: End to turnover deluge

Correspondent Jeff Odom's report from Tuesday's practice: 

While turnovers have plagued the USF offense during the season's first three games, Coach Willie Taggart said he doesn't expect them to carry over into Saturday’s meeting with No. 15 Miami.

“I think that’s something that’s going to stop,” said Taggart, whose team logged additional work during the bye week in search of a resolution. “We can’t go the whole year turning the ball over for touchdowns; that’s unheard of. I think as soon as that stops, you’ll see a different ball club.”

Of the 102 points scored against the Bulls this year, only 67 have come against the defense. In total, opposing defenses have scored five touchdowns.

“You really haven’t seen our offense yet, because we've been down and we’re not built to come from behind yet,” Taggart said. …

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No word on QB -- yet

Bulls coach Willie Taggart has decided on a starting quarterback for the Miami game. What he hasn't decided on is when he'll reveal his choice.

Around noon Monday, Taggart said on the American Athletic Conference weekly coaches' teleconference he hadn't settled on a starter, but could by the end of the day.

Roughly six hours later, on his weekly radio show, he said he had made a decision -- presumably senior Bobby Eveld or sophomore Steven Bench -- but never revealed it. Taggart is expected to announce his choice at Tuesday's weekly press conference.

"We just need leadership from that position," Taggart said on his radio show. "If we don't need it anywhere else, we need it from that position, and guys that are going to rally the troops and get their teammates to play for them.

"I think that's so important. I think that's something that's missing with our guys. I think they're all capable of doing it, it's just a matter of them doing it and doing it consistently."

THE 'U' VS. THE YOUTH: In the wake of the Bulls' bye week, when coaches staged a couple of
scrimmages to showcase young guys, Taggart hinted Monday more rookies could be on the verge
of playing time.

Among those whom Taggart said could debut against Miami: 328-pound freshman DT Derrick
Calloway of Bradenton Manatee and Miami Northwestern RB Darius Tice. Backup CB Lamar Robbins also could get an increased role, Taggart said.

A two-time Class 7A all-state pick (and 2012 state shot put champ in 4A), Calloway totaled 13 sacks and 57 tackles for losses at Manatee -- Taggart's alma mater. Tice was a 1,200-yard rusher as a senior, earning second-team 6A all-state honors.

"The more they get familiar with what we're doing and we're comfortable with them going in," Taggart said, "the more they'll play for us."

LOCAL TIES: Officially, USF has six players who list Miami as their hometown, but that doesn't include several others from neighboring southeast Florida communities. Miami has nine players who hail from Hillsborough or Pinellas counties.

ODDS AND ENDS: The Bulls' Oct. 5 home game against Cincinnati -- their conference opener --
will be broadcast on ESPN3. Kickoff time hasn't yet been determined. ... Taggart said S JaQuez Jenkins, who sustained an unspecified lower-body injury against FAU, "ran around a
little bit" Sunday, but his status for the Miami game will depend on how he practices Tuesday
and Wednesday.

AUDIBLE: "I think the 'U' is back. I think they're back." -- Taggart on Miami

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Full disclosure: My first AP football ballot

While filling out my first Associated Press top-25 football ballot in a decade earlier this morning, the strains of The Godfather theme slithered like an earworm in my subconscious.

After 10 years of voter abstinence, they pulled me back in.

Submitting a weekly ballot -- a task I really don't mind -- was among the responsibilities I inherited from Times USF beat-writing predecessor Greg Auman. Truth be told, it was an offer I could've refused, but gladly chose to accept.

An avid college football follower already, I used the previous week's poll as a guide, watched a bunch of action Saturday, did a bit of considering and contemplating, and submitted by ballot around 8 a.m. today.

A little bit on my thought process:

I'm already thinking I have UCLA ranked too low and Michigan too high. I deemed LSU's win Saturday against a prominent foe a bit more impressive than Stanford's. I dropped Arizona State from the top 25, supplanting it with Fresno State.

I've got Florida on the top-20 bubble, but I like the leadership and mobility of new QB Tyler Murphy. And I actually thought long and hard about undefeated Maryland before deciding against ranking the Terps.

Anyway, the following are the rankings I must live with for this week. Just bear in mind, this is my first ballot since 2003, when Ron Zook was coaching the Gators, Ron Franklin was ESPN's lead college football analyst, and Ron Reagan was still alive.

1. Alabama
2. Oregon
3. Clemson
4. Ohio State
5. LSU
6. Stanford
7. FSU
8. Louisville
9. Georgia
10. Texas A&M
11. South Carolina
12. UCLA
13. Oklahoma State
14. Oklahoma
15. Miami
16. Washington
17. Northwestern
18. Michigan
19. Baylor
20. Florida
21. Ole Miss
22. Notre Dame
23. Wisconsin
24. Texas Tech
25. Fresno State

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Freshmen among Bulls' positives

TAMPA -- For a team struggling to score, give the Bulls points for optimism. Clearly, players and coaches are trying to accentuate the positives hidden amid the rubble of the season's first three games.

And one nugget of hope they've excavated is the collective play of their defensive rookies.

While true freshman LB Nigel Harris' impact (16 tackles, forced fumble) has been well-documented, two or three of his classmates also have stood out.

Among them: Johnny Ward. A lean (6-foot, 163 pounds) cornerback from Moultrie, Ga. Ward has eight tackles -- three against FAU -- and one of the Bulls' two interceptions.

"He's been stepping up all year," senior S Mark Joyce said. "In training camp and summer camp I didn't think he was going to be ready. I was thinking maybe he'll redshirt. But he came out and he's been playing pretty stout."

Coach Willie Taggart, whose team is tied for 23rd nationally in total defense (310.3 ypg), agrees.

"He's not the biggest in the room, but he plays all-out," Taggart said. "I think that's what you see with those young guys. They go all-out all the time. It's like they don't know any better, and you love it."

ODDS AND ENDS: Taggart said every coach on the staff will be on the road recruiting during the bye weekend. ... S JaQuez Jenkins, nursing an unspecified lower-body injury, didn't suit up for Wednesday's practice. He wore neither a boot or brace, but betrayed a slight limp. ... OL Thor Jozwiak, sidelined since doctors detected an erratic heartbeat in the preseason, suited up in shorts and shoulder pads. "When you're dealing with a heart situation, you don't rush to get back," Taggart said.

AUDIBLE: "We're just in a storm right now. We've just got to keep driving through that storm, and sooner or later we'll get through it and see the light and look back and...forget about that storm." -- Taggart

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Taggart's concern: USF, not UM

Here are Times correspondent Jeff Odom's notes from Tuesday's USF football practice:

TAMPA -- Despite being dealt the difficult task of facing No. 16 Miami in less than two weeks, USF is keeping the focus solely on itself during the bye week to get everyone on the right page. 

“To be honest, there’s not a concern about Miami, it’s about USF,” Bulls coach Willie Taggart said Tuesday.

“It’s about us getting better and seeing how good we can be. It’s never about our opponent, it’s always about us. If we play like we’re capable of playing, we can play with anyone in the country.”

POSITIVE ATTITUDE: Taggart said he wants all of his players to have an upbeat mindset and not dwell on the past three games. On Tuesday, he pointed out two encouraging signs of improvement -- USF’s defense, ranked 23rd in the nation; and the performance of senior HB Marcus Shaw, sixth nationally in total rushing yards (392).

“We do have some good things going on in our program and we can’t not look at those things because we’re 0-3,” Taggart said. "We have to build on those things." …

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Bulls notes: Taggart seeks playmakers, QB stability

Based on Coach Willie Taggart's comments during the AAC weekly coaches teleconference Monday, the Bulls bye week will represent an open casting call for offensive playmakers -- and one guy to pass it to them.

After using three quarterbacks in as many games, Taggart indicated he'd like to settle on one -- likely Steven Bench or Bobby Eveld -- this week and give that person the majority of reps during Miami week.

The AAC confirmed the Sept. 28 game between the Bulls and 'Canes at Raymond James Stadium will kick off at noon. It will be televised on ABC, ESPN or ESPNU.

"I think that would be really nice for our offense to get some consistency and give the majority of the reps (to one guy) and be well prepared for the game," Taggart said.

"We're going to use this week to really focus on that part and make sure we've got the right guy at that position that's going to help us produce some offense."

USF (0-3) ranks last in the AAC and 120th nationally in total offense (257.3 yards per game). Its pass-efficiency rating (75.9) is second-worst among FBS schools, leading only BYU.

"I told our guys this week we're looking for playmakers. So if they're out there come see me," Taggart said.

"We're going to put you in position to see if you can make some plays for us. We're trying to find every which way we can to get some offense, especially from the passing game standpoint."

SHAW HONORED: Two days after rushing for a career-best 153 yards against FAU, TB Marcus Shaw was among five players named to the AAC's weekly honor roll. Shaw currently ranks second in the conference with 394 yards.

INJURY UPDATE: Taggart reported no major injuries from Saturday's loss to FAU. He didn't specify the ailment of S JaQuez Jenkins, spotted on crutches in Saturday's second half, only to say he got "dinged up" but it was "nothing really too serious."

ODDS AND ENDS: Taggart said the Bulls likely will hold a couple of scrimmages for younger players this week "while preparing for Miami the entire time." ... He added freshman WLB Nigel Harris (12 tackles vs. FAU) will remain in the playing rotation -- somewhere -- even when normal starter Reshard Cliett (shoulder) returns. "He's just too good of a player, too good of an athlete to not be on the football field," Taggart said.

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