Can Taggart Repeat History And Revive USF?
By Jackson Wang
If history repeats itself, South Florida is in good hands.
Bulls head coach Willie Taggart's first year in Tampa was similar to what he did in his first year at Western Kentucky.
Taggart concluded his inaugural season at South Florida with a 2-10 record, which includes going just 2-6 in the AAC. During his first season as head coach for the Hilltoppers, Taggart went 2-10 overall and 2-6 in the Sun Belt Conference.
Two years later, Western Kentucky went 7-5, including an appearance in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in 2012. If South Florida can have a year like that this fall, then they are headed in the right direction, especially after scoring just 11 offensive touchdowns last year.
The rushing attack almost didn't exist, averaging just more than 88 years per game. But the good news is Taggart has shown the ability to develop 1,000-yard rushers.
During his three-year stay at Western Kentucky, Taggart consistently had a 1,600-yard rusher each year: Bobby Rainey is 2010 and 2011, and Antonio Andrews in 2012. Taggart could turn senior Michael Pierre into a player like Andrews and Rainey.
Fans witnessed some sparks of greatness from Pierre in the spring game. Now with Marcus Shaw gone, Pierre will get a lot of carries, which could lead to him having a breakout year.
The passing game wasn’t much of a help either. Four quarterbacks played last season, combining for just seven touchdown passes. But the Bulls will have Mike White back, who threw three touchdowns and nine interceptions to end the season, but displayed some promise.
While at Western Kentucky, Taggart turned Kawaun Jake into a playmaker and threat by the time he left. Jake made big gains in total touchdowns, completion rate and passing yards under the coach.
Since Taggart has a feel for what kind of player White is, he should be able to develop him similar to what he did with Jake. The only difference is White has a lot more talent than Jake, and it’s up to Taggart to make sure he displays it.
But White will have to earn that starting position, as Penn State transfer Steven Bench has had success, throwing three touchdowns in the spring game. And that should be a good thing as both players will push each other.
Plus, Bulls will also have their No. 1 receiver back. Andre Davis had 49 receptions for two touchdowns in 2013.
But the road to repeating history in Tampa won’t be easy, especially with the loss of Aaron Lynch, who lead the team with six sacks, and DeDe Lattimore, who had the most total tackles last season with 98. Both players had a big role in the Bulls defense, which kept South Florida with in striking distances in many games last year.
But Taggart still has Reshard Cliett, the second-leading tackler, and Hassan Childs, who was a freshman last season and led the team in interceptions.
The Bulls also return 17 starters this fall and Taggart seems confidence for the 2014 campaign.
“One of the things I thought with our football team we were small and we got bigger,” Taggart said, according to gousfbulls.com. “We were weak and got stronger. I thought we were slow and I felt like we addressed that in recruiting. I think we’ve got some speed coming in and we want a lot of those guys to compete, too, to help us put together this football team.”
Playing in a bowl would be one big accomplishment, especially since South Florida hasn’t made the postseason since 2010.