OCTAVIO JONES | Times
USF athletic director Doug Woolard was given a courtesy car for the 98-mile drive back to Tampa after his vehicle was vandalized during Friday's game at UCF.
University of South Florida athletic director Doug Woolard was given a courtesy car for the 98-mile drive back to Tampa after his vehicle was vandalized during Friday's game at UCF.
UCF Police Department spokesman Chad Binette confirmed the tires on Woolard's Audi were slashed at some point during the Knights' 23-20 victory against the Bulls. It was parked next to the Wayne Densch Sports Center, which is adjacent to Bright House Networks Stadium, Binette said.
Knights athletic department spokesman Brian Ormiston said Saturday that UCF athletic director Todd Stansbury personally drove Woolard's car back to Tampa on Saturday morning.
"I want to publicly apologize to Doug," Stansbury said in a statement.
"I'm disappointed and embarrassed that this happened at our facility. I'm thankful our friends at Carl Black (Orlando auto dealership) came through with transportation for him to get back home. We always encourage good sportsmanship and responsible behavior and this was neither."
UCF police are investigating. Woolard didn't elaborate on the vandalism immediately after the game, but issued a statement Saturday night. …Full Story
TAMPA -- Friday's game at UCF will feature a special reunion for USF defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan and Knights coach George O’Leary.Full Story
The two worked together for five seasons (1987-91) on Bobby Ross' staff at Georgia Tech. Bresnahan served as inside linebackers coach and O'Leary was defensive coordinator during the Yellow Jackets' national championship run in 1990.
Bresnahan said Wednesday he hasn't kept up with O'Leary very much on a personal level in the years since, but has many fond memories from their time together.
"It was fun, we had a blast, we really did," Bresnahan recalled. "We've stayed in contact very minimal, but I've followed his career and he's done an unbelievable job."
BORTLES PRAISED: Bresnahan has plenty of admiration for UCF QB Blake Bortles (2,819 passing yards, 20 TDs, five INTs), saying the junior is among the best in college.
"He's as good as anybody in the country, I really believe that," Bresnahan said. "He's efficient, he does the things that winning quarterbacks do. He manages the run game, uses the play-action pass to complement it, and then when he has to make a play, he does.
"Once again, it's a great challenge for us and our guys love it."
Senior DL Todd Chandler said the key to stopping Bortles and Knights RB Storm Johnson is simple: Hit them quickly.
"At the end of the day, it's all about starting fast and finishing (our) hitting," Chandler said.
"Hit, hit, hit -- that's going to be our main obstacle this week. Just putting a hat on Storm Johnson and get to Bortles just as many times as we can and get them knocked down."
FLOYD A FINALIST: Redshirt sophomore QB Matt Floyd has been named a finalist for the Freddie Solomon Community Spirit Award, presented by the Premiere Players Sports Foundation.
The award is given to one college football player each year from Florida or South Carolina who has gone above and beyond in giving to others and performing community service. The winner will be announced during an awards dinner Dec. 10 in Tampa.
TAMPA – Despite the five-year USF-UCF hiatus that ends Friday night, the Bulls boast a veteran coach -- and winner -- of rivalry games. Full Story
As a player at Western Kentucky, Willie Taggart helped lead the team to three consecutive victories against rival Eastern Kentucky from 1996-98 as the Hilltoppers starting quarterback.
At Stanford, Taggart served as running backs coach in 2007 when the Cardinal defeated No. 2 USC before breaking a five-year losing streak against Cal later that season in a rivalry widely known as "The Big Game."
It's that personal history that gives USF's first-year coach plenty of faith going into the nationally-televised meeting with the Knights, who can clinch a share of the American Athletic Conference title with a victory. USF is 4-0 all-time in the series.
"It's big-time college football and that's what it's supposed to be," Taggart said during his weekly press conference on Tuesday.
"I don't think these guys in here have been able to experience that since they've been here, because there hasn't been a rivalry. It's going to be fun and they're going to see what it's like to have these games where the record doesn't really matter. You've got to come ready to play on that day."
BE HAPPY: Taggart said sophomore DL Aaron Lynch played his best game of the season in Saturday's 16-6 loss to SMU and attributed his performance (four solo tackles for a loss, two sacks) to him being upbeat on the field.
"Aaron and I talked the night before and I said, 'Aaron, when you're happy and smiling, you play well. But when you're unhappy and upset, you don't,'" Taggart said. "Sure enough, that entire game, I did not see a frown on his face and he played big-time for us."
ODDS AND ENDS: As numerical fate would have it, Friday's game is the 200th in USF history and 400th for UCF. ... The Orlando Sentinel, citing a UCF spokesperson, reported that USF returned more than 2,800 of its share of 5,000 tickets for Friday's game. ... Taggart said he moved Tuesday's practice from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. because, well, the Bulls play at night. In accordance with the Bulls' fortune this season, it rained periodically during practice.
AUDIBLE: "For me, it's all about family. I always talk to our kids about how we're one big family. I always tell them it's my wife, my two little boys and my 105 other boys that I have here. That's what's important to me." -- Taggart on what the Thanksgiving holiday means to him.
USF redshirt junior PK Marvin Kloss, whose school-record 13 consecutive field goals this season include four of 50-plus yards, is among three finalists for the Lou Groza Award.Full Story
The award is given annually to the nation's top kicker. Kloss will join FSU's Roberto Aguayo and Texas' Anthony Fera at the Home Depot College Football Awards show -- to be televised live by ESPN -- Dec. 12 in Lake Buena Vista.
According to USF, he is the first Bull to be named a finalist for a major college football award. "It's a great honor," said Kloss, who leads the FBS with nine field goals of at least 40 yards.
"I wouldn't be in this position without my teammates; the big guys blocking up front, the great snapper, David Berdetsky, and a great holder in Mattias Ciabatti. I'd also like to thank the coaches because without them I wouldn’t have an opportunity to go for some of those longer field goals. I love that Coach (Willie) Taggart has trust in me."
Kloss, who kicked and played safety at Naples Barron Collier, has converted 14 of 18 field goals this season. Nine of the 13 in a row he converted during an 11-week stretch were at least 40 yards. He has connected on all 13 of his PAT tries.
By contrast, Fera and Aguayo each have converted only one field goal of at least 50 yards. Aguayo has five conversions of 40 or more yards, Fera has four.
TAMPA -- After being excessively hailed for his debut performance at Houston, Bulls freshman QB Mike White probably had no chance of living up to the sudden hype surrounding him.Full Story
But he tried to, a bit too hard. Hence the reason for White's mild regression in USF's last two games, Coach Willie Taggart said Monday.
In the 35-23 loss at Houston, White posted the best passing-yardage debut ever (311 yards, two TDs, one INT) by a Bulls quarterback. In his last two games, he has completed 55.2 percent of his passes (37-for-67) for 415 yards, one TD and six picks.
"I just recall we lost that ball game (at Houston), but you would've thought we won it, how excited everyone around here (was)," said Taggart, whose team travels Friday to Orlando for the eagerly anticipated renewal of the rivalry against UCF.
"I think that got to Mike -- and understandably so -- to where he felt like he had to be the savior in these ball games. When we were down and we needed a play he tried to make plays."
As a result, White has rushed things a bit and failed to progress through his reads. In Saturday's 16-6 loss to SMU, Taggart said he focused too much on trying to get the ball to leading receiver Andre Davis (five catches, 113 yards).
"He'll come to the sideline and tell you what he did wrong and what he needs to do to correct it," Taggart said. "Even though he hadn't been the player he was at Houston, he continues working and that's what it will take. ... He's still learning."
PRIME-TIME FINALE: The American Athletic Conference announced the Bulls' season finale Dec. 7 at Rutgers will kick off at 7:30 p.m. and be televised on ESPN2. It will be the Bulls' fifth consecutive night game and eighth of the season.
BRING ON THE KNIGHTS: Unlike the prior decade, when USF resided in the Big East and saw little benefit to playing UCF, Taggart loves the idea of renewing the rivalry annually.
Considering they're now neighbors in the American, a regular Bulls-Knights meeting is a given for the foreseeable future. The teams previously have met only four times, the last in 2008. USF has won all four.
"I love the idea of playing them," Taggart said.
"I could tell when I first got the job the importance of it all. I mean, we weren't even playing yet, but you'd skip over the other games to talk about the Central Florida game, so you know the importance of it to our fans and our alumni."
Knights coach George O'Leary said he has lobbied to play USF all along, citing the obvious geographic rivalry and potential financial benefit to both programs.
"And now I don't have to worry about pushing it," he said. "They're in our own conference."
AUDIBLE: "I thought other than TCU they were probably the best defense we've played." -- SMU coach June Jones on USF's defense. The Bulls limited SMU to 280 total yards -- 200 below its season average -- in the Mustangs' 16-6 victory Saturday
Tricky week for us pollsters, who had to determine just how far to drop the four top-14 teams that lost Saturday. Full Story
Questions abounded. What do we make of Baylor's blowout loss to Oklahoma State? Did Oregon defraud us all? Is a three-loss Texas A&M team still among the best 25 in the nation? Is UCLA?
After extensive pondering, all remain on my ballot, though only Baylor is still in the top 10. Elsewhere, I bid adieu to Minnesota and welcomed Cincinnati, which hasn't lost since that 26-20 defeat to USF seven weeks ago.
3. Ohio State
5. Oklahoma State
7. Michigan State
9. South Carolina
12. Arizona State
15. Fresno State
17. Northern Illinois
24. Texas A&M
TAMPA -- A day after news broke about CB Chris Bivins' departure from USF, Coach Willie Taggart acknowledged the sophomore from Gainesville had been suspended earlier in the year.Full Story
"Chris had some things he had to do to get back on this football team," Taggart said on his weekly teleconference Thursday. "He had a choice he had to make if he wanted to do those things so I guess he's decided to transfer."
Bivins was limited in his time at USF mainly because of two torn ACLs in an 11-month span. He played in four games with the Bulls in 2012, finishing with one tackle against Ball State.
LYNCH INCIDENT: Taggart said he was aware of an incident between two fans and sophomore DL Aaron Lynch in the waning minutes of Saturday's 23-10 loss to Memphis.
During a touchdown review by officials in the fourth quarter, two fans appeared to become belligerent toward Lynch, whose response to the heckling triggered an exchange of words and inappropriate gestures.
Taggart said Lynch was immediately removed from the game after the situation and will not receive any further punishment against SMU.
"At that point, where the thing was going on with Aaron and the fans, was when (Memphis) had just scored and our guys didn't react the way they were supposed to," Taggart said.
"We didn't react like a winning team. We let our frustrations get to us. ... Rather than getting upset with the fans, we've got to be upset with ourselves. We're the ones that's doing it."
BENCH BOOST?: While he's committed to starting freshman QB Mike White, Taggart said he's not opposed to finding situations where Steven Bench could be used if needed.
"I see Steven as being our backup, but I do think there's a place where Steven can help us on the offensive side of the ball," Taggart said. "We've got to be creative and allow him to do that at times."
TAMPA -- Shortly after the Bulls honor their 17 seniors during a pregame ceremony Saturday night, SMU will launch a three-plus-hour tribute to the forward pass.Full Story
"It's going to be seven-on-seven basically the whole game," Bulls defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan said.
Under coach June Jones, the Mustangs (4-5, 3-2) rank fifth nationally in pass offense (380.1 yards per game). His passing-game coordinator: Hal Mumme, who brought a similar offense to the University of Kentucky in the late 1990s, leading UK to two bowl games.
Senior QB Garrett Gilbert, who averages 54 attempts a game, leads the nation in total offense (405.7 yards per game), setting up the long pass with the short one.
Bresnahan said the key will be thwarting the Mustangs when they take their selective shots downfield, and limiting big yardage after the catch. USF struggled to tackle effectively in its last game against a pass-heavy offense, a 35-23 loss at Houston on Halloween night.
"This team makes a lot of plays after the catch and they have a lot of great athletes that can make things happen," senior DB JaQuez Jenkins said. "So it's going to be vital for us
to get them on the ground."
BIVINS LEAVING: Sophomore CB Chris Bivins, whose once-promising career was de-railed by a pair of ACL injuries, has left the program.
The school confirmed Bivins, runner-up for the state's Class 6A Player of the Year honor as a Gainesville High senior in 2011, actually departed a few months back. He suffered his second ACL tear last November and appeared headed for a redshirt this season.
AUDIBLE: "I'm excited about it, I'm scared for it, I'm nervous about it, but it has to happen." -- senior DE JuJu Forte on running through the southwest tunnel of Raymond James Stadium a final time Saturday
ODDS AND ENDS: Saturday's game is the first meeting ever between the Bulls and Mustangs. ... Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville, whose team surrendered 403 passing yards in a 28-25 win against SMU on Nov. 9, said there's really no shutting down the Mustangs offense: "You've just got to be able to slow them down and be able to keep them off the field as much as you can," he said. ... Barring a major injury, junior Andre Davis now appears a lock to finish his career as USF's all-time leading receiver. His 104 career catches are 27 shy of Hugh Smith's school record.
Their attack has evolved over the course of autumn, becoming equal parts diverse and dynamic. USF's runs seem a bit wider, its services sharper, its crosses crisper.Full Story
But for all its offensive strides, the Bulls (8-3-9) have spent the season's stretch run epitomizing the mantra that defense wins championships.
They've already won one, surrendering one goal in three American Athletic Conference tournament matches en route to the title. Thursday, they embark on a national championship quest with an NCAA Tournament first-rounder at North Carolina (8-5-5).
"Defensively they've been solid," said 12th-year Bulls coach George Kiefer, whose team has allowed five total goals in its last 10 matches, and has four shutouts during its current six-match unbeaten streak.
"Shows you what I know, earlier in the year I was worried about our back four. My wife keeps digging me on that. They're super organized defensively, which is nice."
Clearing and sweeping in relative obscurity has been the quartet of senior Ben Sweat, junior Nikola Paunic, sophomore Matthew O'Neal and junior Wesley Charpie. With senior GK Brentton Muhammad, the unit ranks 17th nationally with a 0.68 team goal-against average.
Sweat, a first-team all-conference pick, and Charpie hail from Palm Harbor University and Tarpon Springs, respectively. O'Neal stepped in when senior Ricardo Webb sustained a season-ending injury in late October.
Collectively, the row has formed a sturdy complement to Muhammad, who saved three consecutive penalty kicks in the American final against Connecticut and was named the tourney's defensive MVP.
"Muhammad has been great all season, and he's also a good leader as far as keeping the guys
in tune and what not," Kiefer said. "But the back four has been excellent all season long, so that's a huge piece."
USF (8-3-9) vs. North Carolina (8-5-5)
When/where: Thursday, 7 p.m., Fetzer Field, Chapel Hill, N.C.
TV/radio: None (Live stats available at GoUSFBulls.com)
Winner faces: UC-Irvine (in California) on Sunday
TAMPA -- USF senior TE Lawrence Martin said he takes full responsibility for a fumble at the goal line in the second quarter of Saturday's 23-10 loss to Memphis.Full Story
Martin, who moved from offensive line to tight end -- among other positions -- earlier this season, lined up at fullback on second-and-goal from the 1 with 8:22 to play in the first half.
Martin said it was a play that successfully had been run multiple times in practice during the two weeks leading to the game. But when the time came to run the play for real, Martin said he didn’t have a firm grip on the ball.
"I had a lot of butterflies," Martin said Tuesday. "I was actually thinking about what my celebration was going to be, because I got it every day in practice. I was like, I've got this down pat. I'm going to walk in the end zone.' And it never happened."
If things would have gone as planned, Martin said he was going to celebrate the TD by saluting the troops in attendance for Military Appreciation Night.
SENIOR SENDOFF: USF will honor its 17 seniors and their families with a ceremony during Saturday's home finale against SMU.
LB DeDe Lattimore said it will be emotional playing at Raymond James Stadium for the last time, but he wants to help lay the foundation for the program's future starting with a victory over the Mustangs.
"I don't really know how to take it," Lattimore said. "I've been at South Florida going on five years, playing at Raymond James. Only thing I can say is it's a great opportunity and I'm just trying to get this win to go out even sweeter."
Coach Willie Taggart, acknowledging that some seniors are on their third Bulls coach, said the season's final three games won't be used as preparation for 2014.
"This year's not over, that wouldn't be fair to this football team," Taggart said. "These guys have worked really hard and they've done everything we've asked of them. It's only fair that we all work our tails off to make it right for them."
SPITGATE: Senior RB Marcus Shaw confirmed a Memphis player spit in his face on the play in which Martin fumbled, but said he regrets his actions -- which he didn't reveal -- following the incident.
Shaw drew a personal-foul whistle and was benched the remainder of the first half.
"(Under previous coaches) I probably wouldn't have gotten back in the game," Shaw said. "I would have been out this game, too. ... In the football game, you've got to keep your cool. I just lost it. I should have done something else differently than what I did."
AUDIBLE: "Every year is their year, apparently. But they haven't figured it out yet." -- senior QB and Jesuit High alumnus Bobby Eveld, on the Tigers' Nov. 8 victory against Tampa Catholic. It was Jesuit's 14th consecutive triumph in the series.
Whatever they call college soccer's version of March Madness (November nirvana, perhaps?), the Bulls will experience it for the seventh season in row. Full Story
With its penalty-kick triumph against Connecticut in Sunday's American Athletic Conference tournament final, the Bulls (8-3-9) clinched a berth in the 48-team field. USF opens play Thursday evening at North Carolina.
Here's a by-the-numbers look at the Bulls entering their national title quest:
1 Total goals the Bulls have surrendered in their last five matches
3 Bulls who made the all-AAC team: defender Ben Sweat (first team) and midfielders Lindo Mfeka and Samuel Hosseini (second team)
9 Rounds of penalty kicks needed for USF to edge UConn, 6-5, after scoreless regulation and OT periods in Sunday's AAC tournament final
10 Saves (in regulation and OT) by Bulls GK Brentton Muhammad against UConn. Muhammad had three consecutive saves in the penalty-kick period
12 Division I NCAA Tournament appearances made by USF's George Kiefer, either as a coach or assistant
18 NCAA Tournament appearances USF has made in the program's 39-year history
2,520 Distance (in miles) from Chapel Hill, N.C. to UC-Irvine, where the Bulls would play in a Sunday second-round matchup
TAMPA -- As he prepares to face what might be the nation's most pass-friendly offense, Coach Willie Taggart re-stated his belief in the more conventional one he's trying to implement in Tampa.Full Story
The Bulls (2-7, 2-3), who host SMU Saturday night, enter the game ranked 120th nationally in total offense (263.7 yards per game) with eight touchdowns all season.
Yet in an era of spreads, pistol formations and zone reads, Taggart's still committed to his power-based offense that employs the run to set up the play-action pass. What's more, he believes the philosophy will attract top-tier recruits.
"It's worked everywhere I've been; we've been able to get the kids to execute it," said Taggart, who'll face a Mustangs team ranked fifth nationally in pass offense (380.1).
"And we'll be able to get 'em here as well. I think what you're seeing with us is trying to operate with kids that were recruited for something else. And those kids will be better as we continue to move forward. But it's not hard to recruit those guys."
Until getting them, however, Taggart acknowledged USF could continue struggling to play from behind. The Bulls have trailed at halftime in seven of their nine games.
"Again, we don't have the personnel to (play from behind) right now," he said. …
While compiling this ballot in Sunday's wee hours, it occurred to me that roughly a half-dozen teams would pose a viable threat to Alabama if they faced the Tide today. Full Story
If forced to wager my mortgage, I'd take FSU over 'Bama right now. Same with Baylor and perhaps -- perhaps -- Auburn. So why are the Tide still No. 1 on my ballot? The same reason I kept Oregon No. 2 all those weeks: They've done nothing to deserve a demotion.
Granted, they were mostly shoddy in Saturday's 20-7 win against Mississippi State, but a rough night's inevitable when you're dealing with 18- and 19-year-olds in the nation's toughest league.
'Bama's still at the top until someone topples it, though now more than ever, I believe that will happen.
Elsewhere, my ballot bid adieu to Miami and Texas and welcomed Duke and USC. …
In recognition of Stan Heath's 200th career victory Friday night at Bowling Green, we've compiled a list of other noteworthy wins -- as well as some interesting facts and feats -- from his 12-plus seasons as a Division I coach. Full Story
Did you know?
* Heath's 200th win against Bowling Green -- a MAC opponent -- represented a full circle of sorts. He was a Falcons assistant from 1994-96.
* While on the subject of full circles, Heath began his head coaching career in the MAC at Kent State in 2001. That Golden Flashes team, of course, finished 30-6 and reached the Elite Eight.
* Career win No. 200 came almost six years to the day after Heath's inaugural victory at USF, a 100-69 win against Florida Atlantic in Daytona Beach on Nov. 17, 2007.
* Heath might be the nation's only active coach to send two players to the NFL. San Diego
Chargers TE Antonio Gates played on his lone Kent State team, and former Jacksonville Jaguars WR Matt Jones was a two-sport star at Arkansas a decade ago.
* As an assistant or head coach, Heath has watched nine of his pupils reach the NBA.
1 -- 90-68 vs. Mercyhurst, Nov. 19, 2001 (Kent State)
50 -- 74-52 vs. Auburn, Feb. 4, 2004 (Arkansas)
100 -- 68-56 vs. Oral Roberts, Dec. 22, 2006 (Arkansas)
150 -- 99-93 vs. Providence, Feb. 27, 2010 (USF)
200 -- 75-61 vs. Bowling Green, Nov. 15, 2013 (USF)
USF baseball coach Lelo Prado didn't have to sell his newest signee's dad on the merits of his program and philosophy. Full Story
Paul Russo had been sold a quarter-century ago.
Russo's son, Tampa Catholic SS Paul "Paulie" Russo II, has signed with USF, formally becoming a second-generation Prado pupil. Paul (1B/3B/C) and his brother Pat (closer) played for Prado at the University of Tampa from 1987-90.
The younger Russo, who hit .305 as a junior and recorded an .885 fielding percentage for TC, also was recruited by UT, Alabama and Vanderbilt. The decision to stay at home was his.
The delight was shared by his family.
"I know (Prado) is a no-nonsense guy," the elder Paul Russo said.
"He will demand the best from you and he will work you to get the best out of you. As well as having the demanding pride, he has a nurturing side to him also. He can sit and talk to you, explain stuff to you."
Russo (5-foot-10, 165 pounds) joins what projects as a Bulls signing class of more than a half-dozen. The school hasn't formally released its list of signees, but several other local standouts already have publicly signed also. One or two more are expected. …