USF vs. Connecticut, 8, ESPN, 98.7-FM, 1010-AM
The Bulls (1-2) lead the all-time series 6-5, and the past seven meetings have been decided by seven or fewer points. After three consecutive helpings of a spread-style offense, the Bulls finally face a pro-style attack sputtering as much as their own. Like the Bulls, UConn (1-2) will try to establish a power run game (look for a lot of I-formation), but it averages only 66.7 yards on the ground. Redshirt senior QB Chandler Whitmer (36-for-73, 464 yards, three TDs, two INTs), who threw two back-breaking picks in Saturday's 38-21 loss to Boise State, took over when opening-day starter Casey Cochran retired due to repeated concussions. Defensively, UConn is stout, ranking fourth in the American Athletic Conference (368.3 ypg). Every projected starter in its front seven is a fourth- or fifth-year player, and CB Byron Jones might be the Huskies' top overall talent. USF has lost its past six weeknight games....
TAMPA — The unrest hasn't yet confronted him in a convenience store or howled epithets from behind a tinted window at a traffic light. Generally, folks remain cordial to Willie Taggart when he's seen in public.
"I speak to them and they speak back to me, and treat others like I want to be treated," he said.
But USF's 38-year-old football coach isn't naive enough to believe vitriol isn't lurking on Twitter feeds and talk radio and fan forums. He understands with each ugly defeat, the incendiary hashtags (#FireTaggart) sprout in profusion. Taggart has waded in such dissension before — at his alma mater (Western Kentucky)....
Four days after his unit graded out woefully against N.C. State, Bulls defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan is hoping it can revert to straight-As.
Alignment, assignment, adjustment, alert. On Wednesday, Bresnahan indicated a collective failure to follow those principles in Saturday's 49-17 loss led to the mass confusion when N.C. State motioned and disguised its looks.
"The window dressing N.C. State gave us gave us problems," said Bresnahan, whose unit surrendered 589 yards, one shy of the most allowed by the program in a game.
"We didn't just settle down and play the final formation. We let all the window dressing affect us, and then we didn't play. We didn't play with the same intensity, the same physicality that we've been doing. Therefore you don't create the turnovers, you don't create the big plays that we've
been able to create."
As a result, Bresnahan is re-emphasizing those four A's this week: Get aligned correctly to execute your assignment, know any adjustment that comes within the package, and alert yourself prior to the motions of what will transpire.
"The bottom line is football, and they can do all the window dressing they want," Bresnahan said. "When the ball is snapped, you've got to go play your assignment, you've got to play your rules and you've got to do it aggressively if you're gonna be successful."
NO SIGN OF THE SPREAD: For the first time this season, Bresnahan's unit won't have to defend against a spread-style attack....
At a time when optimism seems harder to attain than first downs in the Bulls constituency, we offer a potentially encouraging history lesson:
In Willie Taggart's second season at Western Kentucky, following a 2-10 debut, the Hilltoppers lost their first four games. During that span, they committed 15 turnovers to their opponents' seven.
Then, they won seven of their last eight.
On Tuesday, Taggart again noted how similar that 2011 breakthrough season at WKU seems to this one, which the Bulls -- 2-10 a year ago -- have begun with two losses in three games.
"Again, so many similarities it's crazy," Taggart said. "I was talking to (former WKU) Coach (Jack) Harbaugh and he was like, 'It's funny, it seemed like we had this conversation four years ago at Western.'"
Following a 14-3 season-opening loss to Kentucky, the '11 Hilltoppers were drubbed on consecutive weekends by Navy (40-14) and Indiana State (40-16). The turning point, however, occurred in a 26-22 home loss to Arkansas State, then coached by current Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze.
In that game, officials overturned an apparent WKU first-down rush in the fourth quarter, and current Bucs tailback Bobby Rainey came up short on fourth down. Arkansas State responded with a 67-yard drive, scoring the game-winner with 43 seconds to go. The defeat extended what was then a nation-worst 18-game home losing streak for the Hilltoppers.
They won their next five, defeating Middle Tennessee State on the road in double overtime only five days after the loss to the Red Wolves.
"We got sick and tired of losing, and guys just came together," Taggart recalled Tuesday. "It was a controversial call and guys were crushed and were hurting. ... And the next game we won in double-overtime and it just took off from there. We started believing."
As frustration percolates locally, Taggart, whose '11 season is more closely chronicled in this story, said he'll do exactly what he did three autumns ago: Refuse to digress from his plan.
"If you get off plan with what you believe in, it's not gonna work," he said. "You can't waver because people are unhappy. The thing you've got to do is keep working and try to make 'em happy by getting your team right and winning some ball games."...
At flustering intervals Saturday, USF's defensive communication apparently was breaking down as badly as its offensive protection.
Such is how S Jamie Byrd described it. On the heels of an inspired, turnover-inducing effort against Maryland, the Bulls defense seemed to have more wires crossed than the Spinal Tap sound crew in Saturday's 49-17 loss to N.C. State....
A look at Connecticut, which faces the Bulls on Friday at Raymond James Stadium
Record: 1-2 (Win -- Stony Brook, 19-16; Losses -- BYU, 35-10; Boise State, 38-21)
Coach: Bob Diaco (first season)
The breakdown: Like Willie Taggart, Diaco is trying to restore a program that face-planted itself in mediocrity. The early returns are mixed; UConn struggled to get past I-AA Stony Brook but its defense held normally potent Boise State to 292 total yards. UConn will enter Raymond James Stadium ranked fourth in the American Athletic Conference in total defense (368.3 ypg). "Overall, the whole group continues to fortify our DNA," said Diaco, Notre Dame's defensive coordinator when it reached the 2012 BCS Championship Game. "I can't say it's set but it's starting to really look and take shape in being a team that will play hard hard for four quarters and never give up." ... Opening day starting QB Casey Cochran, who led the Huskies to victories in their last three games of 2013, has walked away from the game due to repeated concussions. Fifth-year senior Chandler Whitmer, his replacement, had some nice moments against Boise State but was sacked seven times and tossed two fourth-quarter interceptions including a pick-six. ... Sophomore Tim Boyle -- who started last year against USF -- is Whitmer's backup.
Odds and ends: The last four meetings between UConn and USF have been decided by seven or fewer points. ... WR Geremy Davis has caught at least one pass in 29 consecutive games, tying for the longest active streak nationally. ... TB Lyle McCombs, who torched USF for 164 rushing yards last season, was dismissed from the team in the offseason.
Taggart's take: "They play a 3-4 (defense) and they move to an even-man front at times. But they're really stout, they're big up front. They try to two-gap you and really bottle you in. Again, their front seven is really physical. Our guys have got to come ready to play. They're good against the run and they're really good on third down (14th nationally). It's going to be an interesting ball game."...
Though billed as a noticeably stronger unit following an offseason of increased bulk and bench presses, the USF offensive line's collective muscle mass sustained a muscle massacre Saturday.
In the wake of that debacle against N.C. State, Coach Willie Taggart is challenging the group to step up. Immediately.
Appearing on the American Athletic Conference weekly coaches teleconference, Taggart said he was disappointed how the Wolfpack dominated both lines of scrimmage in their 49-17 rout, but was especially displeased with an o-line -- featuring three seniors and junior among the starters -- that allowed three sacks and nine QB pressures.
"I think going into the season we were saying that was gonna be the strength of our football team...and we're not doing as well as we should right now," Taggart said.
"They have the most starts on our football team, the most experience on our football team. You look at all the skill positions, they're young guys but they're talented and we've got to provide an opportunity for the quarterback to throw the ball to those guys and be able to hand it off to them so they can run."
The unit could be bolstered by the return of 321-pound junior LG Thor Jozwiak, who practiced Sunday after missing the last two games with shoulder and toe issues. Additionally, Taggart said starting jobs will be open to competition in the days leading to Friday's AAC opener against Connecticut at Raymond James Stadium.
Only six offensive linemen logged action Saturday. "Nobody has job security; we're not doing that anymore around here," he said.
"Guys have to be able to hold up their part of the bargain and play at the level we know they're capable of. I just know we're not playing at that level up front. I know they're so much better and we need for them to be better, and they will be better."
INJURY UPDATE: Jozwiak may not be the only Bull close to coming off the shelf. Senior WR Andre Davis, who has missed the last two games with a bruised sternum, was set for a doctor's appointment Monday afternoon, Taggart said.
"Those guys will hold guys accountable, and they've been trying to do it," Taggart added. "I think it's different when you're actually out there with them and trying to motivate and get 'em going. ... So getting those guys back will be very beneficial, very helpful for our football team in a lot of ways."
ODDS AND ENDS: Friday's game against UConn will be televised on ESPN, the conference announced Monday. ... The Bulls' Sept. 27 game at No. 19 Wisconsin will kick off at noon and be televised by ESPNU or ESPN2, USF confirmed. ... Actual attendance for the N.C. State game was 17,198, according to the Tampa Sports Authority. ... Through three games, the Bulls are ranked 113th nationally in total offense (300.3 ypg) and 100th in total defense (453.3 ypg). ... After being projected for a bowl game by ESPN's Brett McMurphy (Independence) and Mark Schlabach (Military) following the Maryland game, the Bulls failed to make the projections of either this week. ...
During the season's initial weeks, as the fly-by-nighters are sifted from the legitimate contenders, watch for a lot of fluctuation on this ballot.
Case in point: South Carolina, whom I dropped altogether last week, but now re-insert into my top 10. Granted, defensive concerns remain in Columbia, but the 'Cocks have posted consecutive quality wins (East Carolina, Georgia) after flopping against Texas A&M on opening night. The ball coach is righting the ship in short order; who'd like to play South Carolina right now?
Similarly, USC takes a profound tumble (from No. 7 to 20) following its loss to Boston College. Though I typically try to avoid dropping a team below one it has defeated this early in the season (i.e. Stanford ranked ahead of the Trojans), I believe it all will play itself out. This is only Week Three.
And chalk it up to stubbornness or stupidity (I'm sure most of you will point to the latter), but UCLA remains in my top 10. I know the Bruins are the nation's ugliest 3-0 team, but they're 3-0 nonetheless, with two wins on the road (yes, playing Texas in Dallas is a road game). Again, it all will play itself out, perhaps as early as Sept. 25 (see UCLA at Arizona State).
7. Texas A&M
8. Notre Dame
10. South Carolina
12. Michigan State
14. Ole Miss
17. Arizona State
19. Oklahoma State
23. Kansas State
25. Ohio State...
From observations to opinion to abysmal numbers, the N.C. State-USF postmortem is here in its entirety.
Additionally, Times columnist Tom Jones pulls nary a punch in his bleak assessment of the Bulls program 15 games into the Willie Taggart era....
TAMPA — With several snaps in relief of Mike White on Saturday, Quinton Flowers became the fifth quarterback of Willie Taggart's 15-game tenure to take meaningful snaps for the Bulls.
A heralded dual-threat freshman from Miami, Flowers made his college debut on the Bulls' third possession, gaining 8 yards on a pair of runs before White re-entered. He finished with 32 yards on six carries, but two of his four passes were intercepted, including one in the back of the end zone late in the fourth quarter....
TAMPA — A few more hapless efforts like the one it delivered in its increasingly cavernous confines Saturday afternoon, and USF just might find itself playing on campus sooner rather than later.
Perhaps Chamberlain High's campus. Or Plant's.
Okay, maybe things haven't grown bleak enough for the Bulls to downsize their venue that radically. But what clearly is dwindling after a 49-17 loss to North Caroline State is their fan base and bowl aspirations....
USF vs. N.C. State, 3:30, CBSSN, 1010-AM, 98.7-FM
For a Bulls team salivating for the postseason, this game is critical. A loss means USF (1-1) would have to go 5-3 in league play (or 4-4 and win at Wisconsin) to achieve bowl eligibility. Coach Willie Taggart said Thursday night that QB Mike White (fractured left forearm) had appeared sharp in practice, but don't be shocked if junior Steven Bench starts. Also watch for freshman Quinton Flowers to relinquish his redshirt with at least a cameo. N.C. State (2-0), which has three linebackers on the shelf, will operate primarily out of a 4-2-5 (nickel) alignment, meaning USF freshman Marlon Mack (348 rushing yards) could be poised for another prosperous day. The Wolfpack ranks 104th nationally (221 yards per game average) in rush defense. The statuses of Bulls WR Andre Davis (sternum) and LG Thor Jozwiak (shoulder, toe) remained unclear Friday....
Four Decembers ago on Seffner soil, Jacoby Brissett had staged the scoring drive of his life, only to have the life siphoned out of him.
Palm Beach Gardens heavyweight Dwyer High, reigning Class 4A state champ, trailed Armwood by five in the waning stages of the 2010 state semifinals. Brissett, the Panthers' brawny senior quarterback, already had preserved his team's last-gasp drive with long runs up the middle on fourth and 6 and third and 10. With roughly 30 seconds to play and the ball at Armwood's 13, another third and 10 loomed....
Though three weeks remain until the start of basketball practice, the Bulls men have crept into a handful of headlines recently. To summarize:
* The NCAA granting a medical hardship waiver to PG Anthony Collins clearly is the most encouraging of the recent news items. With two years' eligibility remaining, Collins could be a key component for a 2015-16 Bulls team that will be far more seasoned than this winter's group. The current roster features nine players who have never appeared in a Division I game.
* New USF men's basketball coach Orlando Antigua's historic run with the Dominican Republic national team ended with Saturday's 10-point loss to Slovenia in the Round of 16 of the FIBA World Cup. The game marked the nation's first appearance in the knockout round of the event, and its first World Cup appearance in 36 years. The team went 2-3in pool play, defeating New Zealand and Finland.
“It was a great experience for myself and our team, going against the best teams in the world,” said Antigua, who begins preseason practice with the Bulls on Oct. 3. “Representing my country was a great honor and something I hope to continue to do in the future. I’m excited to start working with my USF team as we are getting ready for the start of the season.”
* PF Chris Perry, who has transformed his once-burly 6-foot-8 frame, is one of five projected "breakout sophomores" by Sports Illustrated. Perry's listed at 266 pounds (his freshman-season weight) on the Bulls' current roster; he's probably closer to 240 these days....
The most positive narrative spun from the Bulls' first two games is how the defense has made a statement with its eight turnovers gained (fourth nationally) and five fumble recoveries (tied for third).
On Wednesday, coordinator Chuck Bresnahan had a statement of his own: Not good enough.
He wants his unit to be No. 1. To that end, his staff has created "Turnover Tuesday," in which defensive players rotate through four stations, each focusing on a specific turnover-creating drill. When full-squad work commences, coaches keep track of turnovers.
"We practice stripping the ball. D-linemen, we're even trying to catch picks. We do all of the above," said DT Derrick Calloway, who forced one of Maryland's six turnovers Saturday. "As far as whatever we can do to get the ball out of the other person's possession, that's what we do."
In Tuesday's practice, the Bulls forced five turnovers. Bresnahan wanted seven.
"It sounds good, five turnovers, but when you want to continue to be the best in the country, we don't want to be second-best or third-best, we want to be the best in the country in creating turnovers," Bresnahan said. "And the way they've attacked it, I've been proud of them."
INJURY UPDATE: QB Mike White (fractured left forearm) wore a glove on his left hand and took pre-practice snaps under center, mishandling one. Neither WR Andre Davis (sternum) nor LG Thor Jozwiak (shoulder, toe) were present during the initial part of practice open to reporters.
HEALTHY ROTATION: Any concerns about the Bulls' depth along the defensive front, especially in searing mid-afternoon September heat, haven't been fully realized to this point. USF rotated six down linemen against Maryland, with each getting at least one tackle.
Through two games, USF ranks 32nd nationally in run defense (98 yards per game), albeit against rushing attacks ranging from mediocre (Western Carolina) to middle of the pack (Maryland).
"The one thing that I have noticed this year, more than probably any place I've been in a while...it's been totally unselfish," Bresnahan said....