The season's straightaway is nearing, yet Team Taggart remains mired in the qualifying stage. Three games in, the owner still is seeking someone capable of steering his offense out of the pits.
"We're trying to find every which way we can to get some offense, especially from the passing game standpoint," said USF football coach Willie Taggart, whose team's pass-efficiency rating (75.9) is next-to-last in the 123 teams ranked by the NCAA in Division I-A. "There's no limit to who can play over there or who will be playing over there."
Or is there?
Taggart had barely reached the podium for Saturday night's 28-10 Florida Atlantic postmortem when he was asked if it was time to give 6-foot-4 freshman Mike White a crack behind the wheel.
A Mr. Football finalist for the state at Fort Lauderdale University School last fall, White threw for 2,201 yards and only two picks, leading his team to a 13-0 season and a Class 3A state title.
But Taggart indicated White's not ready to lead the Bulls offense — yet.
"We're not going to put him in and do that to him right now," Taggart said. "He's not ready yet, and we're not going to do that to him. I mean, we all want to find a quarterback that can be consistent and help this football team, and we will."
Logic suggests it ultimately will be Steven Bench, who provided a momentary lift off the bench Saturday (two scoring drives) but struggled (two sacks, interception returned for TD) in the second half. A Penn State transfer still grasping the nuances of Taggart's offense, Bench (8-for-22, 134 yards) brandished mobility and a crisp spiral at times. He took snaps from first-team center Austin Reiter at Tuesday's practice.
But regardless of who emerges, he'll only create a spark if his receivers create space. Jefferson High product Andre Davis (nine catches) is the team's top receiver. TB Marcus Shaw's five catches are tied for second-most on the team.
"That's my job to find that guy to get us going, and we will," Taggart said. "I think those guys can do it, but they've got to show up. They do a good job in practice, they've got to do a great job when we come out here under the lights and play like they do in practice."
A 1-1 VICTORY? Before a program-record home crowd (1,204), the USF women's soccer team (4-1-3) made its most resounding statement of the young season Sunday, playing ninth-ranked Florida to a 1-1 double-overtime tie.
Associate head coach Chris Brown heaped praise on the Bulls' seven-player rotation of defenders that fronted keeper Christiane Endler, who tallied nine saves and earned a spot on the American Athletic Conference's weekly honor roll for a third consecutive week.
"It's not like we're not giving up shots, but they've done a very good job of limiting quality, dangerous chances from some pretty good teams," Brown said. "Florida was on a roll. They had taken apart some really good teams in the last four or five games."
BULL BITS: For silver lining, Shaw ranks second in the American and 11th nationally in rushing yards per game (131.3). … Sophomores Bethany Evans and Michael Babinec (a Riverview High alumnus) were USF's top female and male finishers, respectively, at last weekend's Mountain Dew Invitational in Gainesville. Evans was 19th in the women's 6K (22:14.78); Babinec was 61st in the men's 8K (26:28.02).
Follow Joey Knight's Bulls coverage at tampabay.com/bulls and @TBTimes_Bulls.