Standing in the bowels of Paul Brown Stadium late Friday night, Willie Taggart called his team's latest defensive collapse "a collective mistake by everyone, players and coaches."
For the fifth time in eight games, Taggart had watched an opponent gash his team for at least 300 yards in only a half. On Friday, it was backup QB Munchie Legaux and TB Rod Moore -- two seniors relegated to backup roles at the season's outset -- alternately slicing and dicing the Bulls as Cincinnati totaled 590 yards (328 after halftime) in its 34-17 romp.
Legaux, whose career was presumed dead when he suffered a grotesque knee injury two Septembers ago, finished 14-for-15 for 121 yards in relief of injured starter Gunner Kiel.
Moore, recently thrust into duty following injuries to a pair of other backs, ran for a career-best 212 yards on 19 carries, posting the school's best individual rushing effort in nearly four years.
"They got too much," Taggart said. "Never in a million years I thought they would rush for that many yards on us. We didn't do a good job of stopping the run and we didn't do a good job of stopping the pass. We just didn't play well defensively."
By the time Taggart uttered that concession, passionate deliberation about the root of USF's problems -- scheme or execution -- already had been renewed.
Is the pass rush insufficient in coordinator Chuck Bresnahan's new 3-4 look? How does a slot receiver (Shaq Washington) get isolated for a 9-yard catch on fourth-and-2 deep in Bulls territory? How can the Bulls continue getting gashed by backs who never will be mistaken for Heisman candidates?
As recently as Thursday, Taggart said the problem was rooted mainly in execution.
"At times, you've seen where the defense has stopped those spread offenses, so I think it's more execution than anything," he said.
"I think coaches can always do things better. ... I think it's executing and doing what we do better than what we've been doing. ... I go back to the East Carolina game. I mean, we held them to probably their lowest amount of offense (481 yards) in that game. These spread teams, you're going to give up some yards. They're pretty good for a reason...you just try to minimize how much you give up and try not to let them score touchdowns."
Eight games in, minimizing spread attacks -- much less mastering them -- has seemed too tall an order.
Another resurgent spread offense, Houston, comes to Raymond James Stadium in a week.
"At some point we had to buckle down and just get tough," linebacker Nigel Harris said Friday. "We failed to do that at times, so we've just got to get in the film room and just watch our assignments, see who did it right or wrong, just practice it and make it better."...
The latest USF postmortem, and all its trimmings, have been consolidated right here for your convenience.
First, the game story from the Bulls' 34-17 defeat at Cincinnati, where the Bulls fumbled six times (losing two), were assessed 95 yards in penalties, and tied a school record by allowing 590 total yards....
CINCINNATI — Apparently, all those positive vibes USF culled from last week's historic victory at Tulsa never crossed the Ohio River on Friday. On a crisp Cincinnati night, beneath a majestic Midwest skyline, the Bulls experienced no second-half resurgence.
Only three-quarter regression.
Interceptions, infractions and basic ineptitude converged to kill any chance of the Bulls escaping Paul Brown Stadium with a critical American Athletic Conference victory. Exploiting most of the blunders, Cincinnati held off a Steven Bench-led fourth-quarter rally for a 34-17 triumph....
CINCINNATI — Four autumns after routinely posting video game-like receiving numbers for Jefferson High, Andre Davis proved he had at least one more historic Friday night left in him.
With the Cincinnati skyline as a backdrop, an ESPN2 viewership as an audience, and a critical first down as the stake, Davis became USF's career receptions leader in Friday's opening quarter.
His 8-yard catch on third and 5 in Cincinnati territory, which set up Marvin Kloss' 44-yard field goal, gave Davis 132 career receptions, eclipsing Hugh Smith's 12-year-old mark....
CINCINNATI — Following the most astounding debut this side of the McRib, USF freshman Marlon Mack had nowhere to go but down. At least statistically.
The iPhone60 might debut before anyone at USF replicates what Mack pulled off in his first collegiate game — on short notice, no less.
Informed he would replace injured starter Darius Tice only hours before the season opener against Western Carolina, Mack burst into USF lore (275 rushing yards, four TDs) in that 36-31 triumph....
USF at Cincinnati, 7, ESPN2, 98.7-FM, 1010-AM
Cincinnati (3-3, 1-1 American Athletic Conference) is playing all its 2014 home games at Paul Brown Stadium — home of the Bengals — as its on-campus facility undergoes an $86 million renovation. … If Cincinnati temperatures creep into the mid 40s as expected tonight, USF (3-4, 1-1) will face its coldest kickoff of the year by more than 10 degrees. … Cincinnati has won seven of the 11 meetings, but USF upset the Bearcats 26-20 last October (without an offensive TD) for the first victory of the Willie Taggart era. … Tonight's glaring key will be how effectively Cincinnati's injury-besieged defense, 119th nationally against the run (242.3 ypg), handles conference rushing leader Marlon Mack (103.9 ypg). Efficient Cincinnati PK Andre Gantz (7-for-8 FGs) and equally steady counterpart Marvin Kloss (9-for-11) could be challenged if the winds off the Ohio River get brisk....
TAMPA — Redemption was on the clock. One more miscue, and Mike White knew he likely would be trading in his helmet for a headset.
USF's sophomore quarterback had lacked precision and passion in the first half Saturday against Tulsa, badly telegraphing his second pass of the game for a 46-yard pick-six as the Golden Hurricane built a 20-point lead. At halftime, Coach Willie Taggart told White he seriously was pondering a quarterback change. Instead of sulking, White scowled....
In terms of personnel, the Bulls will be almost fully equipped to defend Cincinnati's 12th-ranked pass offense (322.8 ypg) Friday at Paul Brown Stadium.
CB Johnny Ward (ankle) is the only Bull not expected to play, Coach Willie Taggart said early Thursday afternoon. OLB Reshard Cliett (shoulder), CB Chris Dunkley (shoulder) and S Jamie Byrd (hip) are expected back after missing all or part of last weekend's win at Tulsa.
Freshman Kendall Sawyer, who appeared in five of the Bulls' first seven games, is listed as Ward's backup on USF's official depth chart.
Taggart said "it's hard to say" how long Ward will be sidelined. "We heal differently and hopefully he'll get back quick just like those other guys have," he added....
TAMPA — Much like their mercurial offensive counterparts, who spent the first half at Tulsa in a stupor, the Bulls defense will try to deliver its first complete game in more than a month Friday night at Cincinnati.
USF's fronts and zone coverages were gashed for 20 points and 314 total first-half yards Saturday at Tulsa, but they allowed only 174 yards and a field goal in the last 30 minutes....
Much like their mercurial offensive counterparts, who spent the first half at Tulsa in a stupor, the Bulls defense will try to deliver its first complete game in more than a month Friday night at Cincinnati.
USF's fronts and zone coverages were gashed for 20 points and 314 total first-half yards at Tulsa, but allowed only 174 yards and a field goal in the last 30 minutes.
The week before, in a 28-17 loss to East Carolina, the Pirates scored 21 unanswered second-half points after trailing 17-7 at intermission. In USF's 27-10 loss at Wisconsin, 315 of the Badgers' 454 yards occurred in the second half after the teams played to a 3-all halftime tie.
Defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan said the problem lies not in the Bulls' scheme, but the discipline used in employing it.
"And again, when I say execution, I don't point the fingers at the players for not executing, I'm talking about us from a coaching standpoint, everything," Bresnahan said.
"But again, they were tuned in, they listened to the adjustments, and the big thing was the explosive plays. In the first half I think we gave up five or six explosive plays. In the second half, only one (a 30-yard run). And that's the big difference in the game."
CONTAINING KIEL: Sophomore S Nate Godwin said the Bulls' game plan against prolific Cincinnati QB Gunner Kiel (1,853 passing yards, 19 TDs) will be similar to the one employed against East Carolina senior Shane Carden, who threw for a season-low 250 passing yards against USF.
"We've got to hit him," Godwin said. "He's a good quarterback and he makes good decisions, but we've got to hit him. I think that any quarterback, once they get hit, they get frustrated. We hit him, we talk to him, he gets frustrated, he'll make bad decisions."
ODDS AND ENDS: Dinged-up defensive starters Chris Dunkley (shoulder), Reshard Cliett (shoulder) and Jamie Byrd (hip) joined the first team in a walk-through portion of Wednesday's practice open to reporters. ... Friday's game is a homecoming of sorts for Bresnahan, who spent four years on the Bengals staff 2004-07, serving as defensive coordinator for three. Receivers coach Ron Dugans played for the Bengals from '00-03 and was an assistant in '07. "That's a great organization," Bresnahan said. "(Owner) Mike Brown and the family are just tremendous. ... They're all great people. (Coach) Marvin (Lewis) and the staff are still close friends." ... LB Nigel Harris offered a bit more detail on his recent shoulder injury, saying someone landed on it during a fumble recovery against Maryland. He returned for the Tulsa game after sitting out one contest, but stopped short of proclaiming himself 100 percent. "Good enough to play, I can say."
AUDIBLE: "I was a freshman, so coming out there I was just looking for that impact play to get me started, and I think that play kind of woke me up a little bit and just made me feel more confident. It just kind of opened up my career a little bit and after that play, I felt like I was more loose and...made a lot of plays the rest of the season." -- Godwin on his 75-yard TD return of Mike McFarland's blocked Cincinnati field goal in last year's 26-20 upset of the Bearcats....
A look at Cincinnati, which hosts the Bulls on Friday at Paul Brown Stadium
Record: 3-3, 1-1 American Athletic Conference (Wins -- Toledo, 58-33; Miami [Ohio], 31-24; SMU, 41-3; Losses -- Ohio State, 50-28; Memphis, 41-14; Miami, 55-34)
Coach: Tommy Tuberville (second season at UC, 12-7; 19th season overall, 142-84)
The breakdown: Behind first-year starter Gunner Kiel, the nation's most coveted prep quarterback once upon a time, Cincinnati boasts the conference's second-best offense (443 ypg, 34.3 ppg) behind East Carolina. Problem is, the Bearcats haven't been able to tackle a soul. Their rushing defense (242.3 ypg) ranks last in the league and 119th nationally, and has allowed five individual 100-yard rushing efforts in six games. Part of the problem involves injuries; Cincy is woefully thin at linebacker and veteran nickel back Adrian Witty (groin) has been out since the season opener. The backfield also has been besieged physically. As a team, UC has 721 rushing yards, six fewer than Bulls TB Marlon Mack. Kiel, who transferred from Notre Dame after being buried on the depth chart, has thrown for 1,853 yards and 19 TDs in six games. Six of his receivers have at least 13 catches including Jefferson High alumnus Chris Moore (18 catches, 421 yards, five TDs), who teamed with USF's Andre Davis to help lead the Dragons to a 2010 state title.
Odds and ends: Kiel's backup, junior college transfer Jarred Evans, has been suspended following his arrest for allegedly punching a man at a party in Sunday's wee hours. ... Among the keys to Kiel's success has been a highly seasoned offensive line. LT Eric Lefeld made his 40th career start at SMU, while RG Parker Ehinger made his 30th. ... If there is a reliable tackler on defense, it's LB Jeff Luc, whose 12.5 stops per game ranks fourth in Division I.
Taggart's take: "(Kiel) is really good. He can throw the football and he's starting to run the ball a little more now. But they have some guys to throw the ball to as well that make plays for them down the field. Very explosive offensively, and on defense...I see them very similar from an
athletic standpoint to (East Carolina). They have a lot of guys that can run and make plays."...
TAMPA — Watershed moment or mirage? Turning point or a tease? No one knows for sure.
Only the ensuing weeks will determine the significance of USF's historic 38-30 comeback victory Saturday at Tulsa. If the Bulls do a figurative face plant in their last five games, the win might be deemed an aberration. If they reach a bowl, most will reflect on the win as the day USF rounded the corner. For now, the state's gubernatorial race might be easier to call....
TAMPA — Less than 48 hours after his record-setting day in USF's historic comeback win at Tulsa, senior WR Andre Davis was named American Athletic Conference offensive player of the week by the American Athletic Conference and collegesportsmadness.com Monday.
It was the first such honor for Davis (six receptions, 154 yards, three TDs), who eclipsed Carlton Mitchell's school record with his sixth career 100-yard receiving effort. He is tied with DeAndrew Rubin for USF's all-time record for TD receptions (14)....
Less than 48 hours after his record-setting day in USF's historic comeback win at Tulsa, senior WR Andre Davis was named offensive player of the week by both the American Athletic Conference and collegesportsmadness.com.
It was the first AAC player-of-the-week honor for Davis (six receptions, 154 yards, three TDs), who eclipsed Carlton Mitchell's school record with his sixth career 100-yard receiving effort. He's now tied with DeAndrew Rubin for USF's all-time record for TD receptions (14).
His 85-yard scoring catch -- in single coverage -- in the fourth quarter tied for the second-longest pass play in school history.
"I told (the coaches) in the first half they were gonna match me up one-on-one," Davis said after Saturday's game. "That's what I love."
Senior DT Elkino Watson (seven tackles, one sack, 3.5 tackles for loss at Tulsa) made the league's five-player honor roll.
INJURY REPORT: Coach Willie Taggart said S Jamie Byrd (hip), CB/KR/PR Chris Dunkley (shoulder) and OLB Reshard Cliett (shoulder) all practiced Sunday afternoon. Dunkley and Cliett sat out Saturday's game; Byrd exited during the contest. "Day by day they're getting better," Taggart said.
ANOTHER AFTERNOON KICK: The conference announced USF's Nov. 1 home game against Houston will kick off at 4 p.m., and will be broadcast live on ESPNews. For those scoring at home, three of the Bulls' first six home contests will kick off at 4 or earlier. No time has been set for the Nov. 28 showdown with UCF.
MACK ON TRACK: After his 130-yard, two-TD effort at Tulsa, freshman TB Marlon Mack finds himself on pace to become only the third 1,000-yard rusher in USF history within a month.
Mack enters Friday night's game at Cincinnati ranked 23rd nationally in rushing (133 carries, 727 yards, 103.9-yard average). He needs only 46 yards against the Bearcats -- 119th nationally against the run (242.3 ypg) -- to eclipse B.J. Daniels' 5-year-old freshman rushing record (772).
ODDS AND ENDS: After film review, LB Nigel Harris was credited with USF's lone forced fumble at Tulsa, giving him four on the year, which ties the school record. ... Since Davis' return from a bruised sternum, USF's offense has averaged 381 yards its last two games. In its first five, it averaged 233. ... The Bulls' 38 points at Tulsa were their most in a road game since 2008, and their most in a conference road game since '07. ... After another sparkling effort at Tulsa (five attempts, 46.4-yard average), junior Mattias Ciabatti has moved up to ninth nationally in punting (45.6).
AUDIBLE: "I think they're just knowing their scheme better. ... They move formations quite a bit, they do a good job with it. Last year it looked like they even confused themselves a little bit by doing all of it. But it takes a while to get that in and they've done a very good job of just sticking with it." -- Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville, when asked where it appears USF has improved the most from 2013...
After a series of sermons warning against mental fatigue, Coach Willie Taggart now is preaching about the dangers of mental frostbite.
Which is to say, he doesn't want his players dwelling on the potentially cold conditions awaiting them Friday night in Cincinnati.
"We've just got to play football," Taggart said on the American Athletic Conference coaches teleconference Monday. "We can't get caught up in that. ... We've got to play in it, they've got to play in it. I don't buy that 'getting used to it' or not."
The Bulls (3-4, 2-1 AAC), who have not kicked off in weather below 58 degrees all year, could face some noticeable frigidness at Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium. Friday's projected low for the area is 43 degrees, according to The Weather Channel....