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Willie Taggart hopes new offense will power more USF wins

Four months after a mostly shaky collegiate debut last fall, Flowers has shown crisper passes and more compatibility with the Bulls' new spread, no-huddle approach. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Four months after a mostly shaky collegiate debut last fall, Flowers has shown crisper passes and more compatibility with the Bulls' new spread, no-huddle approach. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Aug. 31, 2015

TAMPA

Seventeen years after his playing career ended, the quarterback reared in option principles still is perfecting the pitch.

Just last week, a day shy of his 39th birthday, Willie Taggart was delivering them with a well-honed blend of timing, authority and crispness.

"Fast. Exciting. Big plays," USF's preeminent pitchman said when asked to describe his re­designed offense. "Sell tickets. Get (fans) to come here and love coming here and love being at RayJay saying, 'Hey, I want to come back and watch that again.' That's what we're planning to do."

If any singular mantra has prevailed on Fowler Avenue this preseason, it has been the one involving offensive pace. Over the summer, Taggart scoured the state dispensing the benefits of briskness, trying to make "up" and "tempo" as synonymous with USF as green and gold or commuter and school.

Out with the huddle, in with the high-octane.

The offense "is a lot more fun," reigning American Athletic Conference rushing king Marlon Mack said. "More tiring, too."

So the Bulls will get plays off more expeditiously, that much we know. Throughout preseason camp, they typically snapped the ball with double digits remaining on the Morsani Complex's makeshift play clock.

"Get to the ball and next play, next play, next play and keep on rolling," senior center Brynjar Gudmundsson said.

But aside from speed, what are the other specifics? In the wake of the power-based, pocket-passing scheme of the past two years, what will Taggart's new spread-style offense look like?

A guy who sees it from the other side every day might have dropped the most telling clue.

"I think explosive," senior "bull" (weakside defensive end) Zack Bullock said last week. "I think we're finally running something that fits our personnel, especially with (Quinton) Flowers in the backfield. It's almost like having three running backs."

Alas, perhaps the picture of what Bulls fans will see in Saturday's season opener at Raymond James Stadium against Florida A&M is taking shape.

Consider the recent selection of Flowers — the Bulls' most mobile quarterback since B.J. Daniels -- as the starter. Then toss in the Bulls' hearty supply of tailbacks.

Add a revamped line that has brandished run-block sturdiness in the preseason. Then remember Taggart's primary prerequisite for his signal-callers (no turnovers).

Starting to get a read on things? Or more specifically, a zone read?

"(Flowers) is more athletic, and he reads just like us, like he's a running back," Mack said. "And he can throw the ball, too, that's the good thing about it."

If the preseason has proven anything, it's that (A) USF possesses the best receiving depth of the Taggart era, and (B) Flowers' passes possess more zip than most presume.

Yet it remains clear the Bulls' best chance of winning doesn't include standing throw-to-throw with the AAC's upper-tier spread offenses.

As underrated as his arm might be (and Taggart insists it is), Flowers enters 2015 with eight completions in 20 collegiate attempts and no touchdowns.

Don't be shocked if USF plays to its strengths, keeping it on the ground with misdirection and sprint options — with some bubble screens interspersed — in an effort to keep pass-centric offenses off the field.

"We're still running the power," Taggart said at the preseason's outset.

"You go to that grocery store and ask the old lady or old man or anyone you see in there, 'You know the USF football team?' 'Yes, that's the team that runs the power.' We're going to run the power, we're just up-tempo, and we're spreading it out a little more, and it's good."

Which isn't to suggest Flowers won't fling it on occasion. Think of him as a wildcat quarterback who can wing it.

Lull a defense into single coverage, and Flowers has the burners out wide (Rodney Adams, A.J. Legree, Ryshene Bronson, Tyre McCants) to pop open a big gain in play-action. More intermediate throws could be incorporated as the offense gets its bearings.

"I think a lot of people, because they haven't seen (Flowers) throw the ball, think he can't throw the football," Taggart said. "But the kid can throw the football. I think he'll show everyone that he can do that as well."

Just watch for him to showcase his legs more than his arm, especially against the likes of FSU (Sept. 12), Maryland (Sept. 19) and Syracuse (Oct. 10).

Trumping the Power Five will require power running.

"We run spread, but we still do what we do," junior tailback Darius Tice said. "We run power and run at you, but the spread just helps spread out everything."

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.