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....
You're one-stop shopping locale for the greatest comeback victory in USF history can be found here.
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....