Taggart says 'honeymoon is over' as USF season starts
TAMPA -- USF coach Willie Taggart has been warmly embraced by Bulls fans in his nearly nine months on the job, but he understands that with Saturday's opener against McNeese State, he's at a point where he has to earn their love, on the field and on the scoreboard.
"The honeymoon is over ... Everything's been peaches and cream, everybody's been smiling and laughing," Taggart said Tuesday. "I haven't heard many negative things about me, but it's coming. That's part of it. That's what you love about it. We have to go do something."
Taggart has preached to his players about the importance of how they handle adversity, hoping to change a bad trend of late games slipping away from the Bulls last season. He's not sure when the first challenges will come, but he's looking forward to them in some ways.
"I'm interested in this football team, seeing how we respond," he said. "Everything is great right now. The thing I'm looking for is when things get tough, how this team responds. ... We talk about it every day in practice. I don't want guys that are going to go 'Here we go again.' I want guys that (say) 'Coach, give me the ball. Hey, offensive line, block for me. Quarterback, get me the ball and watch what happens. I want those type of guys. Here's an opportunity to do something great. ... If there's anything I'm concerned about, it's that, because I've been a part of that."
BE CAREFUL: In an opening week where many I-A programs bring in I-AA opponents, Taggart said he's aware that first-week games can have more mistakes as a result of players getting back into routine, which can make upsets more likely.
"More games this week will be lost than will be won," he said. "Because a first game, all the little mistakes get you, a false start here, fumble here. We have to try to defend against that and see that we're on the other side and be one of the teams that win the ballgame and not lose it."
HAPPY DAY: Taggart turned 37 on Tuesday, and said for the first time in 20 years, he saw his mother on his birthday. Taggart's been playing or coaching college football out of state since high school, and she made the one-hour drive from Palmetto to bring her youngest child a cake.
STILL COMPETING: Now that Matt Floyd has USF's starting QB job, Taggart said the other options are still competing for the backup job -- senior Bobby Eveld and sophomore Steven Bench were the top challengers to Floyd as starter. He does not yet know who would enter the game in the event of injury or a comfortable lead in Saturday's opener.
"That guy has to be ready. You never know," Taggart said. "You always say 'live and learn,' well last year we went through three quarterbacks here. All those guys have to be prepared. We'll try to keep them all sharp, so if something does happen, the next guy steps in and we don't miss a beat."
THIS AND THAT: Taggart said guard Thor Jozwiak (heart) and defensive end Julius Forte (knee) are improving, but their status for Saturday's opener remains uncertain. He's not aware of any other injuries or any disciplinary suspensions that would hold players out. ... USF center Austin Reiter had played in every offensive snap last season, that is until midway through last year's season finale, when a Pitt player ripped his helmet off. No flag was thrown, so by rule he had to sit out the ensuing play. ...