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Joey Knight, Times Staff Writer

Joey Knight

A fourth-generation Floridian, Joey Knight was born in Tampa and raised in Zephyrhills, where he still resides. He moved to the Times in July 2006 after 15 years at the Tampa Tribune, which included a seven-year stint (1997-2004) as University of Florida beat writer. He began covering the University of South Florida athletic department for the Times in 2013. A married father of three, he enjoys running, classic television and classic heavy-metal music.

Phone: (813) 310-6328


  1. Know the Foe: Syracuse


    A look at Syracuse, which comes Friday to Raymond James Stadium

    Nickname: Orange

    Record: 3-1
    Wins: 47-0 vs. Rhode Island, 30-17 vs. Wake Forest, 30-27 (OT) vs. Central Michigan
    Losses: 24-34 vs. LSU

    Coach: Scott Shafer (third season, 13-16)

    The breakdown: The Orange have been a difficult team to track on film, primarily because they already have used three starting quarterbacks. Freshman Eric Dungey (534 total yards), who missed the LSU game after taking a shot to the helmet against Central Michigan, is expected to start Saturday. He'll operate an offense that could intersperse a strong dose of triple-option. While not terribly prolific -- Syracuse's 350.8 yards a game rank 111th nationally -- the Orange are efficient. They've scored on 12 of 13 red-zone opportunities and haven't lost a fumble. Defensively, Shafer will dial up a smorgasbord of blitzes and fluctuate from a 4-3 (base) to a 3-4 (passing situations). Junior ends Ron Thompson and Luke Arciniega already have four sacks each.

    Odds and ends: USF leads the all-time series, 6-2, but the teams' last meeting probably should count for at least two for the Orange. Down 20 at halftime, Syracuse got a 1-yard TD pass from Ryan Nassib to Alec Lemon with three seconds to play for a 37-36 triumph on Oct. 27, 2012. ... Syracuse already has used 15 true freshmen, tied for fourth-most nationally. ... The Orange have committed 17 penalties, third-fewest in the country. ... Syracuse's roster features former Armwood PK Sterling Hofrichter and former Largo CB Cordell Hudson.

    Taggart's take: "They blitz and they get you off-schedule on offense and play hard and run to the ball. You’ve got to be sound in your protection and in your run scheme and making sure you get a hat on a hat with some of the blitzes that they do."

    Tom Allen's take: "The thing about them is, they're not like Navy where they run the option all the time. Right now they're about 20 percent, and you may see more of they get more in with their quarterback (Dungey)."...

    Syracuse receiver Ben Lewis hauls in a touchdown pass during the Orange's 34-24 loss to LSU on Sept. 26.
  2. USF defense feeds off new coordinator's energy


    TAMPA — To merely observe Tom Allen at work, hollering G-rated admonitions and high-fiving and flitting from one point on USF's practice field to another, might induce fatigue.

    "He's gonna bring the energy out of you, every play," sophomore safety Devin Abraham said.

    Be it a full-padded workout or Friday walk-through, USF's perpetually hoarse and high-strung defensive coordinator exhibits and elicits zeal, he just doesn't consume it. In a profession where caffeine and profane syllables tend to be abused, the only swearing you'll get from Allen involves coffee and energy drinks....

    In first year, Tom Allen preaches passion to the USF defense.
  3. Branches from Harbaugh tree intertwine Saturday


    Eight autumns after they periodically matched wits as fellow Jim Harbaugh lieutenants at Stanford, USF's Willie Taggart and Syracuse's Scott Shafer meet again Saturday.

    And Taggart, the Cardinal running backs coach in 2007, has a pretty good idea of what's coming from Harbaugh's former defensive coordinator.

    “I expect them to blitz. I expect them to blitz and I expect them to blitz and I expect them to blitz some more," Taggart said Tuesday.

    Such is the modus operandi of Shafer and Orange defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough, expected to harass Bulls sophomore QB Quinton Flowers from every direction. Led by junior ends Ron Thompson and Luke Arciniega (four sacks each), Syracuse ranks 24th nationally with 2.75 sacks a game.

    "You’ve got to be sound in your protection and in your run scheme, and making sure you get a hat on a hat with some of the blitzes that they do," Taggart said.

    PROMOTION FOR 'PICK-SIX': Freshman CB Ronnie Hoggins, who totaled five tackles and a pass breakup in his first career start Friday against Memphis, remains No. 1 on the depth chart this week. His backup, veteran Johnny Ward, missed one game with a hip pointer but played against the Tigers.

    "There's not a day that he's been here that he didn't make a play," Taggart said. "We call him 'Pick-Six,' because he did it in high school and came here and started doing it in practice, and he almost had one the other day (in the second half against Memphis), which would've been big. But he's always around the ball."

    'CUSE QB RETURNS: Shafer said on his weekly video Monday that freshman Eric Dungey, the second of three starting quarterbacks already used by the Orange this season, is "ready to go" after taking a shot to the head in a Sept. 19 victory against Central Michigan. In three games (two starts), Dungey, atop this week's depth chart, is 21-for-36 for 428 yards, five TDs and no interceptions.

    ODDS AND ENDS: Neither USF nor Syracuse have lost a fumble this season. ... Upon reviewing the Memphis tape, Taggart said the defensive line particularly was "outstanding. I thought we put a lot of pressure on Paxton Lynch and that affected him a little bit." ... The Bulls will try to snap a five-game homecoming losing streak Saturday. In the 2012 homecoming encounter with Syracuse, the Orange scored on a 1-yard TD pass with three seconds remaining to rally for a 37-36 victory. ... Dave Ryan (play-by-play), Corey Chavous (analysis) and Lauren Gardner (sideline) will call Saturday's game for CBS Sports Network. ... Sophomore TB Marlon Mack is 66 rushing yards shy of 1,500 for his career. ... After spending the 2014 season primarily as a nickel back, sophomore Devin Abraham (13 tackles, one INT) said he feels more comfortable at his natural free safety spot. "Moving back at safety is more of a home feeling," he said.

    AUDIBLE: “I don’t know where we all get that we’re just going to sling the ball, just throw it all around. We never said we were going to be that kind of football team. We’re playing to the strength of our football team, and that’s our running backs, and we’re going to run the football. We’ve said that from Day 1 that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to run it and we’re going to throw it off the run." -- Taggart

    AUDIBLE II: "The way we look at it, we think we’ll be playing that team again (in the American Athletic Conference championship game). We’re going to correct some things and see to it that that happens.” -- Taggart, referring to Memphis...

  4. A USF football turnaround has to start against Syracuse


    TAMPA — As predictable as the Bulls' offensive scheme against Memphis appeared to be to fans, it had nothing on Tuesday's sound bites.

    Diplomacy was telegraphed at the team's weekly media session. With resurgent Syracuse — and a possible 1-4 start — bearing down on the Bulls, coach Willie Taggart and two players were asked if a heightened sense of urgency exists. The responses were easier to intercept than a Jameis Winston flat route....

    Coach Willie Taggart, left, insists that every game is urgent, no more so because his team is 1-3.
  5. Spread offenses create dread for defenses


    For two tense halves, they took turns setting efficient screens, taking high-percentage shots and ratcheting the tempo. Urgency was stoked with each possession. March Madness at its most breathtaking. • Except for a couple of minor glitches: A closing tip supplanted the opening one, and the point total really wasn't indicative of Texas Tech-TCU hoops. • It was higher. • When TCU senior Aaron Green snagged a tipped pass in the back of the end zone with 23 seconds remaining, securing a 55-52 Horned Frogs triumph two Saturdays ago, the Frogs and Red Raiders formally eclipsed the combined points scored by their basketball counterparts in a 62-42 TCU triumph in January. • That same college football weekend, Memphis outlasted Cincinnati 53-46, UCLA topped Arizona 56-30, Utah blasted Oregon 62-20 and James Madison slipped past SMU 48-45. • "It's a whole different ball of wax now," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said, "but that's the college game."...

    TCU's Aaron Green catches a tipped ball in the end zone for the winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter against Texas Tech on Sept. 26. The 55-52 final margin rivaled scores from the schools' basketball teams. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)
  6. USF coach Taggart remains committed to offensive plan


    TAMPA — A month into the season, the sleek, power-based offense Willie Taggart promoted as "fast" and "exciting" hasn't lived up to the latter adjective.

    But entering Saturday's homecoming game against Syracuse, the Bulls coach is neither conceding — nor overhauling — anything.

    "Obviously we haven't provided that (fun and excitement) if you watch what we're doing," Taggart said Monday. "But I don't think we're far from doing it."...

    USF coach Willie Taggart says his team will continue its run-oriented approach.
  7. Taggart: Offense "not far" from turning corner


    A month into the season, the sleek, power-based offense Willie Taggart promoted as "fast" and "exciting" hasn't lived up to the latter adjective.

    But entering Saturday's homecoming game against Syracuse, the Bulls coach is neither conceding -- nor overhauling -- anything.

    "Obviously we haven't provided that (fun and excitement) if you watch what we're doing," Taggart said on Monday's American Athletic Conference coaches teleconference. "But I don't think we're far from doing it."

    Taggart's conservative approach in the second half of Friday's 24-17 loss at Memphis -- in which USF found the red zone only once -- elicited periodic choruses of boos from the Raymond James Stadium crowd of 14,305. Receivers and tight ends were targeted downfield only six times in the first three quarters, and even Taggart assumed blame for not calling more plays to loosen up Memphis' defense after halftime.

    But the Bulls will remain a run-first team, he said Monday....

  8. Full disclosure: My latest AP ballot


    As long as the college football world order remains on spin cycle each week, you'll find the same schizophrenia on most ballots, incluing mine.

    For the third time in four weeks, I have a new No. 1, though none of those three have lost.

    At this point of this dizzying autumn, I suppose teams ought to be rewarded for staying unbeaten, and normally I hate penalizing teams for winning. But I can't in good conscience keep Michigan State atop the ballot after it squeaked by 1-4 Purdue at home (and lost another offensive tackle in the process). Similarly, Ohio State's certainly not leapfrogging the Spartans after escaping that daunting college football snakepit known as Bloomington, Ind.

    So here's your chance, TCU.

    Elsewhere, Florida played like a top-10 squad Saturday night, and is being rewarded as such on my ballot. FSU's out of my top 10 for the same reason Ohio State is now No. 3: The 'Noles simply haven't looked sharp all year.

    Exiting the ballot are Wisconsin and Mississippi State. Climbing aboard are Iowa and Memphis. I didn't upgrade the Tigers for winning Friday in such a hostile environment (actual attendance: 14,305), but because their victory against Cincinnati looks a bit more impressive today.

    1. TCU
    2. Michigan State
    3. Ohio State
    4. Baylor
    5. Alabama
    6. LSU
    7. Clemson
    8. Utah
    9. Florida
    10. Oklahoma
    11. FSU
    12. Texas A&M
    13. Northwestern
    14. Stanford
    15. Notre Dame
    16. UCLA
    17. Ole Miss
    18. USC
    19. Oklahoma State
    20. Michigan
    21. California
    22. Georgia
    23. Iowa
    24. Memphis
    25. Temple...

  9. Willie Taggart's USF Bulls need to turn tide


    TAMPA — October has barely dawned, yet the downward spirals seem to be outnumbering the downfield ones for USF.

    Home attendance and the coach's approval rating appear to be dipping at the same staggering clip. Bowl eligibility is regressing from solid possibility to mathematical one. A disillusioned fan base isn't being converted. Neither are third downs.

    If ever a program appeared in need of an audible, it's this one. Time for Willie Taggart to take some shots. In the wake of Friday's 24-17 loss to Memphis, staged before an actual audience of 14,305 (per the Tampa Sports Authority), even he seems to realize it....

    USF players watch the final second wind down trailing the Memphis Tigers in the fourth quarter at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on Friday, October 2, 2015. Memphis defeated 24 to 17. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times
  10. USF Bulls fall to Memphis Tigers


    TAMPA — They held a players-only meeting and engaged in three full-contact bye-week practices in an effort to regain the focus and zeal they were missing two weekends ago at Maryland.

    On Friday night, the USF Bulls were so emotionally juiced at the outset of their game against Memphis, it seemed to ooze from their garish green and gold uniforms. Those who have followed this beleaguered team the past few seasons might even have sworn they were observing some sort of pulp fiction....

    Bulls coach Willie Taggart can’t bear to look after Memphis scores a touchdown in the third quarter to lead 17-10.
  11. Bulls have witnessed Lynch's evolution


    He came into Raymond James Stadium two Novembers ago as a raw and mostly unproven redshirt freshman, a collegiate novice only slightly greener than most of those surrounding him.

    Friday night, Memphis junior QB Paxton Lynch returns as a darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate.

    "I heard (Cincinnati) Coach (Tommy) Tuberville say last week he's one of the best quarterbacks in the country that he's seen," Bulls coach Willie Taggart said earlier this week. "And I agree."

    A 6-foot-7 right-hander from Deltona, Lynch's stock -- and that of his team -- has reached virtually an unprecedented stratosphere. He has established a career-high for passing yardage in each of his last three games, and enters Friday's contest against USF ranked fifth nationally in pass efficiency (83-for-113, 1,230 yards, eight TDs).

    His next interception will be his first of 2015.

    "Everything he does, it's like he's already seen it, he already ran the play in his head, and there's no...holding the ball," Taggart said. "It's coming out now. And if he doesn't have it, he's athletic enough to run and get the first down or touchdown for you. ... I'm sure he could just go out and call the plays; he knows it that well."

    That type of instinctiveness and seasoning was borne of trial and tribulation, as indicated in this story. Lynch, who has started every game for Memphis since the beginning of the 2013 season, has grown with most of the players around him.

    Four of his five starting offensive linemen are seniors; as are two starting receivers and the starting tight end. Their early calamities (i.e. a 17-15 loss to Middle Tennessee in 2013) have been supplanted by continuity and clairvoyance.

    "Were there times when I thought about giving him a little break his freshman year? Yeah sure, there were," said Memphis coach Justin Fuente, whose team went 3-9 in '13. "But we really felt like, between the guys around him playing better and him continuing to improve, that we were getting a lot out of it."

    The perseverance was validated last fall. Lynch established a Memphis record for total yardage (3,352) and completed better than 70 percent of his passes in six games, highlighted by a then-career-best 78.3 percent (18-for-23, 232 yards) in a 31-20 win against USF.

    The five sacks he has taken this season are only one fewer that the amount he sustained in that loss to Middle Tennessee two Septembers ago.

    "I think all those things he didn't have his first see it now," Taggart said.

    "He can process everything; he's great at faking. You take that for granted, but he's great at selling the fake, and they're a huge play-action team. Throwing the ball on time, he can make all the throws, make the deep-ball throws. And then running with his feet -- when he doesn't have it, he goes. He doesn't hold the ball long at all. He gets rid of it or he's gone."

    Friday marks Lynch's second consecutive non-Saturday game, which means another chance to showcase himself before a national TV audience. The Bulls' objective: pressure Lynch, confuse him into tentativeness, create takeaways. If all else fails, hope his pregame meal doesn't agree with him.

    Otherwise, the Heisman whispers become more audible....

    Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch enters Friday's game at USF as a darkhorse Heisman candidate.
  12. Memphis an AAC program that USF could emulate


    TAMPA — They were born 28 days apart in the summer of 1976 and named coach at their respective schools within 367 days of each other.

    Both shattered records as quarterbacks at rival Division I-AA universities separated by only 120 miles of Kentucky highway. Tonight, they'll even stand on the same field, 50 yards of Bermuda grass separating their sidelines, as if to convey the fleeting impression their universes remain somewhat parallel....

    Willie Taggart, left, took over at USF a year after Justin Fuente became the coach at Memphis.
  13. 'Eye discipline' all the buzz in Bulls camp


    By the time USF kicks off Friday night against Memphis, "eye discipline" likely will have evolved from catchphrase to cliche within the Bulls circle.

    The four-syllable term has reverberated across the Morsani Practice Complex this week as the Bulls defense prepares for a Memphis attack that specializes in confusion. The Tigers, eighth nationally in total offense (570.3 ypg), likely will show assorted shifts and formations Bulls defensive coordinator Tom Allen collectively refers to as "eye candy."

    "They're obviously the best offense we've played so far," Allen said.

    "We've talked to our guys from Day One about eye discipline, and you can't say that enough. ... That's the key, and tackling extremely well. They get you in space, they isolate you, and then their athletes make you miss."

    CAN HE GO 3-0? The first touchdown Memphis scores Friday will be its first against an Allen-coached unit in the last five seasons.

    As assistant head coach at Arkansas State in 2011, the Red Wolves trounced Memphis 47-3. Last season, as Ole Miss linebackers coach, Allen watched the Rebels hold the Tigers to a season-low 104 yards in a 24-3 Rebels triumph.

    But the Tigers are 12-1 since that loss in Oxford last September. "They've always had some good athletes, but not like this," Allen said.

    "And there's so much depth to 'em too. ... They've got some bigger (running backs) and some smaller ones, but they're all very effective. And all the receivers, there's not a guy you say, 'Hey, we've got to take this one guy away,' because somebody else will step up and has the ability to beat you."

    ODDS AND ENDS: USF is 2-0 in American Athletic Conference openers under Taggart. ... Allen said CB Johnny Ward, who had been nursing a hip pointer, will play Friday. "This is the first time we've been at full strength on defense," Allen said. ... Entering October, the Bulls still have neither lost a fumble nor recovered one this season. "We have a standard we try to uphold and that's at least three takeaways every day at practice, and we always strive for more than that," senior DE Eric Lee said. "So takeaways is obviously a point, a factor, that we need to make sure that we press." ... Despite averaging 53.8 points so far, the Tigers offense hasn't exactly sprinted out of the gate. In its four opening possessions this season, it has punted once and fumbled twice.

    AUDIBLE: "I thought this was one of the most complete practices we've had. Not letting external things affect us as far as the weather...we didn't let that affect us one bit. We came out here and practiced hard from the very first whistle and we finished strong." -- Bulls senior C Brynjar Gudmundsson, whose team worked out in steady rain Sunday and Tuesday

    AUDIBLE II: "Going back there, it's exciting because my high school coaches had a lot to do with me being able to play college ball. So it's kind of a token back to them, to show them my hard work." -- Memphis DE (and Gaither High alumnus) Ernest Suttles, speaking to the Memphis Commercial Appeal...

  14. USF out to woo local basketball recruits


    USF basketball coach Orlando Antigua was hired in part because of his recruiting acumen as an assistant at Kentucky.

    Antigua, now in his second season, is trying to turn the Bulls into contenders in the American Athletic Conference by searching the country — and beyond— for prospects. He also is trying to attract recruits from Tampa Bay, an area that has been somewhat neglected by the Bulls in recent years....

    USF’s Orlando Antigua is trying to mend fences with local prep coaches.
  15. USF defense ready for Memphis challenge


    TAMPA — While watching Memphis amass 570 yards on 73 plays in Thursday night's 53-46 victory against Cincinnati, Bulls junior strong safety Nate Godwin never grimaced.

    To the contrary, he grinned. "I smiled," the Freedom High alumnus said, "because we're built for games like this."

    USF's 4-2-5 alignment, installed by new coordinator Tom Allen to neutralize spread-style offenses, gets arguably its most stringent test to date Friday against the Tigers. The Bulls haven't yet faced a wholesale spread system, but have been victimized by missed tackles, miscommunication and a lack of discipline....

    USF’s Ronnie Hoggins celebrates an interception in the season opener. The Bulls face a potent Memphis offense Friday night.