Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Colleges

USF Bulls QB White struggles with team

TAMPA

He is young, and he is fresh, and when he plays, it is possible to get a glimpse of the future.

On the other hand, he can be ragged, and he can be raw, and there are times his improvement seems to come in fits and starts.

In other words, you may suggest that USF quarterback Mike White is a man of his team.

At the moment, they are struggling along together.

Take Saturday night's 23-10 loss to Memphis. One game after White's dazzling debut against Houston, White was merely ordinary against the Tigers. Oh, it happens, though to be honest, it doesn't usually happen against Memphis, a team that is more or less FAU-sized.

Still, the growth of a freshman quarterback is rarely linear. There are good moments and bad, sharp throws and wobbly ones, plays that make you think the kid has it down and moments where you think he is playing catch-up.

For White, a freshman from Fort Lauderdale, this was one of the learning games with more bad moments than good, one that ended with his teammates consoling him after a four-interception night.

"Mike didn't play as well as we needed him to play," coach Willie Taggart said. "I thought he tried to do too much at times, and that hurt him. When the offense wasn't going well, he wanted to make some plays, and instead of making the right plays, the right reads, he made some mistakes.

"He's down. He's very down. He's such a competitive kid, and he works hard. You know why he's frustrated now, but I told him there isn't a quarterback out there who isn't going to have a bad game."

Against Houston, you might have suspected White was better than this, however. He hit 26 of 41 passes in his debut for 311 yards.

But that quarterback wasn't there Saturday night. For much of the first three quarters, USF didn't allow it. And a ragged fourth quarter left him with the four picks.

He threw eight fewer passes than he did against Houston, with eight fewer completions, for 113 fewer yards.

Against Memphis, his team scored 13 fewer points.

Oh, there are reasons. As badly as White struggled, it wasn't all on him.

For instance, USF entered Saturday night with the intent of running the ball. It didn't. Yet, USF ran on nine of its first 12 first downs. It ran on seven of its first nine second downs. It played as if it believed that eventually Memphis would realize who it was and would get out of the way.

Maybe in future years, that will change. Maybe in future years, White will grow into a quarterback a coach can build his program around.

"I think he can be the quarterback of the future," Taggart said. "He's a good quarterback. I think he can be a real good quarterback."

Certainly, White throws the ball well enough. From his shoulder to his fingertips, he ball comes out quickly and tightly. There is something there. He moves well enough in the pocket. He never seems to have to muscle up on his throws.

But then there are the times that remind you of his inexperience. His first interception, for instance, that set up Memphis in the first quarter for its first field goal. His three interceptions in the final quarter, one of which was returned for a touchdown.

All that and maybe you wonder: Taggart took the redshirt year off the kid for this?

Oh, I don't blame Taggart. There is certainly more life in White's arm that there has been in the Bulls' previous three quarterbacks this season. If a coach can add a growth spurt to his team — a team that needs a lot of them — then he has no choice.

To do that, however, a coach has to expose his quarterback to nights such as this one. Let's face it: No coach ever has turned to a true freshman quarterback because the rest of the team was just so darned good. There remain flaws to these Bulls.

One of them is this team doesn't take a punch very well. How about that play in the second quarter where USF seemed about to score from the Memphis 1-yard line? It fumbled into the end zone, and afterward it seemed to steadily unravel.

In the meantime, we watch a team struggle forward. Beside it, we watch a young quarterback do the same.

With both, there are times you have hope.

With both, there are times you have doubt.

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