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All of the Tampa Bay Times' coverage from the Bulls' 38-30 win at Tulsa has been consolidated on this post. First, our game story, with Coach Willie Taggart's halftime message to his resurgent team....
1. During coach Willie Taggart's postgame address, we learned he developed a pyramid that involves an "ascent to greatness." At the top, he says, is "the miracle of believing." On Saturday, the Bulls scaled it. "Our guys believe," he said. "They didn't give up. … They stuck with it and played one heck of a second half."
2. When Taggart said he had other backs just as good as Marlon Mack, we scoffed. Not now. Fellow freshman RB D'Ernest Johnson (six carries, 33 yards) came up big in relief. His one-handed snag of a pass thrown woefully behind him led to Mike White's 15-yard TD to Andre Davis the next play, cutting Tulsa's lead to 30-28. "Mack did what Mack does, and it was great to see D'Ernest come in there and … he made plays," Taggart said....
TULSA, Okla. — Sophomore QB Mike White's emergence from an apparent first-half slumber was the second significant wake-up call he received on the Bulls' triumphant trip to Tulsa.
The first occurred on the team flight to the Midwest on Friday afternoon. On the charter plane's TV screens, NFL Network was showing a segment on Patriots QB Tom Brady, chronicling his interaction with teammates and ability to rally down the stretch, among other things....
TULSA, Okla. — The team with the faultiest engine block in America encountered more transmission problems Saturday on its Midwest road trip.
Only this time, USF got things humming after halftime, and gave its fan base one of the wildest rides in program history.
Seemingly finished after one half at Tulsa, the Bulls emerged from halftime and, well, finished. Buoyed by the prolific tandem of Mike White and Andre Davis, not to mention the Golden Hurricane's insistence on giving Davis single coverage, USF roared from a 20-point halftime deficit for a 38-30 triumph....
USF at Tulsa, noon, ESPNews, 98.7-FM, 1010-AM
This is the programs' first meeting and Tulsa's homecoming. Watch for a clash of contrasting dynamics. Tulsa (1-5, 1-1 American Athletic Conference) has stumbled out of the gate most of the season (seven first-quarter points) but has tended to progress (42 fourth-quarter points) after halftime. USF (2-4, 1-1), meantime, has led or has been tied at halftime in three of its four defeats but has been outscored 55-7 in the second half. The Golden Hurricane defense, ninth in the conference against both the run and pass, will employ a 4-3 with frequent movement up front. Offensively, its pro-style look will feature a lot of spread principles; the Hurricane has run more plays (514) than anyone in the league. With one offensive touchdown, the Bulls eclipse their 2013 total (11)....
In at least one inconspicuous way, USF will be represented on baseball's grandest stage.
Kansas City Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland, who spent two seasons with the Bulls (1986-87) after transferring from the University of Florida, seeks his second World Series ring when his club faces San Francisco in the upcoming Fall Classic. A Zephyrhills native, Eiland served in the same capacity when the Yankees won the world championship in 2009.
Eiland made 17 starts for the '86 Bulls club that reached the NCAA Tournament, and led the team in innings pitched (107) the following season. He spent parts of 10 seasons in the majors, compiling a 12-27 mark primarily as a starter.
His Royals staff posted the 12th-best collective ERA in baseball (3.51) in the regular season, and lowered it to 2.92 in its four-game sweep of Baltimore in the American League Championship Series....
TAMPA — They could be standing on the threshold of their watershed moment.
If USF's players can replicate their recent first-half crispness Saturday at Tulsa, then allow it to spill into the second half, history may mark Oct. 18 as the moment the Willie Taggart era kicked into a new gear.
"The most important part," senior defensive lineman Elkino Watson said, "is make sure the guys come out of the locker room in the second half with a lot of energy and passion as they do in the first half."...
While Coach Willie Taggart suggests the root of his team's recent second-half funks lies between his players' ears, defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan has been looking elsewhere.
Primarily, in the mirror.
On Wednesday, Bresnahan said he has been taking his unit's second-half execution failures personally, assuming blame for the Bulls not being in the proper run fits or coverage schemes during their two-game skid. Wisconsin and East Carolina both totaled more than 300 second-half yards in their victories against USF.
"When you come out in the first series of the second half and you've got (ECU) at first-and-20 and then first-and-30 in the first drive, and then they score a touchdown, that's unacceptable," Bresnahan said.
"And I start with myself, look in the mirror and say, 'What can we do better to get our guys to come out of the locker room and play with the same intensity?' Because they played lights-out for the first half in Wisconsin, lights-out for the first half last week, then we give up a series of plays."
TULSA TIME: While Tulsa (1-5) clearly doesn't have the success or seasoning of 18th-ranked East Carolina, Bresnahan said the Golden Hurricane have proven capable not only of stretching the field, but remaining on it.
Tulsa has run more offensive plays (514) than the Pirates (455), who also have played six games. While QB Dane Evans (138-for-250, 1,627 yards) has thrown nine picks, Bresnahan said the 6-foot-2 sophomore has improved each week.
"They can run the ball (141.2 ypg), and then they've got a quarterback that can make all the throws," Bresnahan said.
"He's got a very strong arm. Accuracy at times can be a little off, but he's a competitor and they're going to stretch the field again on us, so that's important to understand. ... Very similar to what we saw against ECU. A little bit different approach to it, but the same style."
QUINTON'S CAMEOS: While the first-quarter insertion of freshman QB Quinton Flowers against East Carolina left some fans puzzled, Taggart indicated Tuesday the dual-threat rookie's game reps will continue. The Bulls went three-and-out -- on three run plays -- on Flowers' lone series.
"We're trying to get him in there and find ways to...get the ball to him in his hands," Taggart said. "I think as we continue to go you'll start to see that in a lot of different ways. ... But he's a guy that can help produce some more offense, something that we need, and we've got to keep finding ways to do that."
ODDS AND ENDS: All three banged-up defensive starters -- CB Chris Dunkley (shoulder) OLB Reshard Cliett (shoulder) and WLB Nigel Harris (ankle) -- suited up for Wednesday's practice, staged in shorts, helmets and shoulder pads. ... Two walk-on quarterbacks, Purdue transfer Austin Parker and Ocala Vanguard alum Adam Robles, have been added to the roster. Robles threw six TD passes against crosstown rival Forest as a junior, breaking a school mark held by Daunte Culpepper. ... Senior Elkino Watson said Wednesday he already has lined up at all three spots on the defensive line, including one play at nose tackle. ... Because some of the Bulls' shifts and routes were being thrown off by the added markings at Raymond James Stadium, their practice fields have been lined exactly the same as RayJay's -- down to the last hash.
AUDIBLE: "It may be hard to hear at this point in time at 2-4, but this team is getting better. And I'm excited about where we're at. Am I disappointed with the overall record? Yeah, but not discouraged." -- Bresnahan...
We're here at halftime of the Bulls' 2014 season, polishing off our nachos and listening to the Herd of Thunder's horn-drenched riffs resonate through the humid air. Elbow room, as you might expect, is at a surplus here in our section.
In the first half, we've seen arrivals (i.e. Marlon Mack, Jamie Byrd) and some that flat-out got away (i.e. Maryland, East Carolina). We've watched the Bulls flourish in the muck (Connecticut) and struggle in the Midwest (Wisconsin). We've learned that if USF were a directional school in North Carolina, it would rank somewhere in the middle.
Now, as we wait for Coach Taggart and Co. to re-emerge from the tunnel, one critical question lingers: Can the Bulls perform better in the second half of the season than they've performed in the second half of recent games?
We find out starting Saturday at Tulsa. Meantime, we apply a towelette to our cheese-stained fingers, break out the envelopes and reveal our first-half honorees (with some second-half projections).
Rookie of the Year
Depends on one's definition of rookie. If it's a first-year college player, TB Marlon Mack (597 rushing yards, six TDs) wins going away. If it's a first-year Bulls player, a sound argument can be made for S Jamie Byrd, a juco transfer who has asserted himself as head-lowering, headache-inducing stalwart (team-best 51 tackles) on USF's defense. Either way, we defer to Mack.
Comeback Player of the Year
Can there be any question USF's offensive line has a completely different mentality and mojo when LG Thor Jozwiak is playing? Jozwiak's return after missing the entire 2013 season visibly inspired teammates, and his 321 pounds on the interior have helped create running lanes that simply didn't exist last season. Two of the Bulls' three worst rushing efforts of the year (Maryland, N.C. State) came when Jozwiak was sidelined (shoulder, toe).
Best Offseason Move (so far)
While converted FB Auggie Sanchez has started all six games at middle linebacker (with 23 tackles and a pick), senior Chris Dunkley has mostly sparkled (sack, forced fumble, five pass breakups) since moving from receiver to lockdown corner. Granted, the Bulls have struggled at times against spread offenses, but that's more about scheme and assignment. Dunkley has emerged as arguably USF's most versatile player; he also ranks second in the American Athletic Conference in kick-return average (24.1 yards).
Most Underrated Player
Don't think for a second the Bulls don't appreciate the one player generally considered a team's least appreciated. Junior P Mattias Ciabatti is having a career season (45.5 yards per attempt), pinning more than one-third of his attempts (12 of 34) inside the opponent's 20. In the downpour against UConn, when ball control and field position were more critical than normal, Ciabatti put five inside the 20.
Got to go with Mack. Ask yourself: Do the Bulls get either of their two wins without him? The former two-way Sarasota Booker force carried USF on opening night against Western Carolina (275 yards, four TDs), and ran for 103 yards and another score in the 17-14 win against UConn, when keeping the ball on the ground became a necessity.
Mack becomes the Bulls' first 1,000-yard rusher since 2005. ... Freshman QB Quinton Flowers keeps getting at least one series a game. ... Despite missing four games, Andre Davis finishes as the team's top receiver. ... USF formally announces the two-for-one football series with Texas. ... Mack and Ciabatti are the Bulls' only first-team all-conference picks. ... The Bulls finish 6-6, clinching bowl eligibility with a win against UCF at Raymond James Stadium in the Nov. 28 season finale....
TAMPA — Orlando Antigua's initial conversation with 6-foot-8 sophomore Chris Perry was a heart-to-heft talk. Essentially, USF's new basketball coach told his only experienced post player that his game would expand only when his waistline diminished.
Perry was coming off a solid freshman season (8.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg) in which he was listed at 268 pounds.
"So one of the things I told him is, 'Look at how guys in the position of forward look like,' " Antigua recalled. " 'They're athletic, they're thin, they're strong, but they can move. In order for you to be able to defend those guys, then you're going to have to be able to change your body some.' "...
A look at Tulsa, which hosts the Bulls on Saturday at H.A. Chapman Stadium
Nickname: Golden Hurricane
Record: 1-5, 1-1 American Athletic Conference (Win -- Tulane, 38-31 2OT; Losses -- Oklahoma, 52-7; Florida Atlantic, 50-21; Texas State, 37-34 3OT; Colorado State, 42-17; Temple, 35-24)
Coach: Bill Blankenship (fourth season, 23-22)
The breakdown: Few teams are greener than the Golden Hurricane, who have played eight true freshmen, 10 redshirt freshmen and 22 sophomores this season. ... While USF has struggled mightily to finish games, Tulsa doesn't seem to know where to begin. The Hurricane have been outscored 141-42 in the first half this season, with that deficit narrowing considerably (106-99) after halftime. ... Though three of its 11 seniors start in the secondary, Tulsa has been woefully susceptible to the big play, allowing 28 of 30-plus yards (including 11 TDs). ... Sophomore WR Keevan Lucas is having a monster year (53 catches, 649 yards, seven TDs) highlighted by a 13-catch, 233-yard performance against Tulane. ... Defensively, veteran junior "bandit" back Michael Mudoh (53 tackles) is the bellcow.
Odds and ends: Tulsa has the smallest enrollment of all Division I programs (3,429). By contrast, USF has 45,074 students. ... Blankenship is one of 12 Division I coaches serving as head coach at their alma mater. ... Among Tulsa's prominent football alumni is Bucs coach Lovie Smith.
QB Mike White's take: "I would say that this game is going to be a really aggressive and physical game. Up front, they do a lot of things. They stunt, they kind of time up their blitzes well, so I think that's going to be a huge aspect -- the physical part of it. I think they're constantly
getting better. ... They play for their coach. They play hard."...
A Houston team in dire need of any ember it could find got two significant sparks in Saturday's 28-24 win at Memphis: one from an opportunistic defense and another from a quarterback change.
Yep, the John O'Korn era in Houston appears to be on hiatus.
Cougars resident utility player Greg Ward Jr. totaled 263 yards -- including 95 on 17 carries -- to lift the Cougars (3-3, 1-1), who also got five turnovers from their defense.
Ward, who had replaced O'Korn -- last year's AAC Freshman of the Year -- in an 18-12 loss at UCF nine days before, completed 14 of 25 passes for 168 yards. A 5-foot-11 sophomore from Tyler, Texas, Ward was a three-star dual-threat QB prospect at the prep level, and served as O'Korn's backup all of last season.
This year, he had 15 catches at receiver and was averaging 7 yards on nine punt returns. Coach Tony Levine has since relieved him of those roles.
"Just the small number of plays he had shown prior to Memphis at quarterback, he could make some things happen, extend plays," Levine said.
"Two of our best run plays in the last game were plays that were passes where there was a rush there or great coverage downfield, and he just tucked it and ran. ... He's not a wildcat quarterback, he's dual-threat. He can throw it extremely well and he can run it."
SLEEPLESS IN CINCINNATI? Few teams in America are spiraling downward with as much velocity as Cincinnati (2-3, 0-1), which has surrendered 146 total points (48.7 per game) during its current three-game skid.
The latest debacle occurred Saturday at Miami, where the 'Canes recorded three offensive TDs of 40 or more yards in a 55-34 romp. Miami's point total was its highest against a Division I foe in 12 years.
"Every loss I've had in my career has been my fault. That's my job to get 'em ready to play and get 'em better each week," Bearcats second-year coach Tommy Tuberville said Monday. "I don't care who you play...it's my job to take the players we've got on our football team and put together a game plan to out-play and out-coach the other team, and we haven't done that."
SECOND COMING: Tulane senior QB Nick Montana (yeah, that guy's son), the 2013 starter who lost his job to Tanner Lee in a preseason derby, stepped in for his injured teammate Saturday and led the Green Wave (2-4, 1-1) to an ugly 12-3 win against Connecticut. Montana (19-for-26, 135 yards) directed the Green Wave's only TD drive, which ended with a 7-yard scoring pass.
"(Montana) really managed this football game the way we wanted it to be managed," Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said.
ODDS AND ENDS: Temple is 4-1 for only the fifth time since 1971. ... Nine of UCF's last 13 victories have been by a TD or less, including Thursday's 31-24 overtime victory against BYU. ... Houston has forced at least one turnover in 29 consecutive games....
In the wake of the Bulls' second consecutive second-half meltdown Saturday, Coach Willie Taggart suggested his team's issues down the stretch don't so much involve strength and conditioning as they do psychology.
"I think as our football team continues to get better, we've got to learn to play for 60 minutes and not 30 minutes, and I think that other 30 minutes that we're not playing is really between our ears," Taggart said Monday on the American Athletic Conference football teleconference....
Before watching his first American Athletic Conference game Saturday evening at Raymond James Stadium, Commissioner Mike Aresco spent roughly 15 minutes with reporters, touching on a variety of timely topics. Here are some highlights:
So what are your thoughts on USF?
"I think the program's on the rebound. I think it's absolutely on the rise, I don't think there's any question about it. I was impressed last year, even though the record wasn't good, how (Coach) Willie (Taggart) held the team together. I like him a lot, I think he's a really engaging guy, I think he's a good coach. And his record previously speaks for itself. The way they held the team together, the way they played at Michigan State last year when they really didn't have an established quarterback, the game they gave UCF, which they could easily have won at UCF last year. ... They had some good outings, and this year leading Maryland late and then having a blocked punt and obviously playing as well as they did at Wisconsin...a couple of breaks in the second half and who knows? ... This program's really getting better. They had one of the top recruiting classes in our conference, so I think it's clearly on the upswing. And we need them; this is a really, really important program. We think we have, I call it beachfront property...in UCF and USF, and I think that rivalry will be important for the league."...
My most agonizing day at the AP ballot box began with cerebrum-stretching contemplation, and never got any easier.
I started by violating my personal rule of not dropping the top-ranked team after a victory. I tabbed FSU No. 1 in my preseason ballot and believed the 'Noles warranted that position until someone knocked them off.
But Mississippi State's unprecedented season -- with three consecutive wins against top-10 opposition -- is too impressive to ignore. Today, the Bulldogs' are atop both the AP poll and my ballot....