Friday, January 19, 2018
Colleges

Hurricanes enjoy Golden age as USF Bulls stumble

TAMPA

There are light years between the programs now, as if they are teams streaking away from each other. The University of Miami is a comet setting the sky on fire. USF is a boulder sinking in the local stream.

They are opposites these days, a have and a have-not, the rich and the poor, one that has rediscovered its momentum and the other that has lost its way.

When they get together these days, what in the world do Miami and USF have to talk about?

Except, of course, whatever score the Hurricanes settle for.

This time, UM could have scored 70 and not broken a sweat on what is proving to be the worst USF team of all time. The 'Canes passed, and the USF defensive backs were not in the picture. They ran, and no one could make a tackle. They scored, and the Bulls could do little about it.

For most of the afternoon, at least until Miami grew weary of kicking extra points, it went that way. The Hurricanes scored in less than three minutes the first time they touched the ball and in a little more than two the second time.

Later, it had a 70-yard scoring drive that took 62 seconds and a 60-yarder that took 117 seconds. Miami's points came so fast, you would have sworn the 'Canes were playing pinball.

After all, Miami is among the 15 best in college football and USF is among the worst.

How did you think it would turn out?

Ah, but not long ago, these programs lived in the same neighborhood. Three years ago, USF beat the Hurricanes (and coach Randy Shannon was fired at roughly the time of the final gun). Two years ago, Miami won 6-3.

So what has happened that has allowed Miami to become a very good team, and what has happened to make USF such a bad one?

Two words.

Coaching. Recruiting.

Over the last three years, Al Golden has happened to the Hurricanes. He has brought order. He has brought talent. He has given a new direction, and a new momentum, to his program. No, the Hurricanes still aren't as good as they were during their run of five national titles. But once again, the Hurricanes matter.

Along the way, Golden has groomed his quarterback, Stephen Morris. He has found a way to use his running back, Duke Johnson. The defense is better, the offensive line is better, the secondary is better. His offense is explosive.

Consider this: At one point in the first half, Miami had pulled its quarterback in the second period, and it had a 95-yard kickoff return called back — and a 50-yard punt return called back — and it fumbled twice inside the USF 10, and it missed a field goal.

Odds are Golden would have been ticked.

If not for, um, the 35 points his team scored despite the problems.

And as for USF?

Don't ask.

At USF, Skip Holtz happened. He didn't recruit very well, especially at quarterback. The Bulls have a fine running back in Marcus Shaw, but the quarterbacks all blend together, and the receivers don't make an impact, and the secondary rarely challenged Miami all afternoon.

All of which leads us to this question?

Can Willie Taggart be to USF what Golden is to UM?

At this point, we don't know. Face it, Taggart is as 0-4 as his team.

At this point, the only way to defend Taggart is to criticize Holtz, who at least had the good grace never to be 0-4. If you are fair, and a lot of fans don't care for the word, then you would suggest that there isn't a lot of talent in the cupboard. But isn't there more than this? If you're assigning blame, wouldn't you say that Taggart at least deserves some?

Still, Taggart's self-confidence remains unshaken.

"Oh, hell yeah," Taggart said. "Why not?

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't believe in myself. Just because it's tough doesn't mean it can't change.

"But every win, every loss, it's on me. It's on me to get it corrected, and we're going to get it corrected. It's all on me. I'm the head coach."

Eventually, we will see if Taggart can help a quarterback blossom like Morris. We will see if he can build his offensive and defensive lines. We will see if he can develop a secondary. We will see if his recruiting is up to the competition. In other words, we'll see if he is the right guy at the right time.

If so, perhaps USF can narrow the gap on a great many teams.

If not, there will be more days like this one.

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