Commentary | Willie Taggart's USF debut a disappointment

Willie Taggart's USF debut a disappointment

adell@bradenton.comSeptember 1, 2013 

TAMPA

The honeymoon is over.

Willie Taggart predicted this would happen, but never the way it unfolded.

This wasn't supposed to happen this badly, not to the young upstart coach, not to USF, not against McNeese State.

The much anticipated debut of Taggart, a Palmetto native and former Manatee High standout, as USF head football coach was a nightmare.

The only good thing is that there were only a few hundred fans remaining to watch the carnage that took place Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.

The Bulls were demolished 53-21 by McNeese State, which plays what is considered the lower level of college football labeled the FCS.

"It was a nightmare. My worst fears happened. We have talent, but we are a mentally fragile team," Taggart said. "They haven't won here in awhile and it showed. There were guys that quit. But we are going to get it right. We will find the guys who want to play. I don't care if they are freshmen."

Taggart has always said he wants to see how his players react to adversity. Now the USF Nation is waiting to see how he responds.

This will test his football soul.

"We will get this right. I know how we are going to do and we are going to do it. Guys who don't want to play the right way won't play," Taggart said.

It will also test his football knowledge, starting with his quarterback and a defense that crumbled and couldn't be held upright by a front four that was supposed to be its strength.

Everything that could go wrong did. Nearly everyone is to blame, but it starts with the head coach, and Taggart knows that.

The Bulls gave up 23 points thanks to turnovers, and that can't happen.

Matt Floyd doesn't look like the quarterback Taggart envisioned to run his offense. He threw a pick that was returned 71 yards for a touchdown at the end of the first half. He threw another interception to start the second half that led to seven more points on a 15-yard drive.

Floyd's career line now reads like a horror story; seven interceptions and no touchdowns. You can throw in a few fumbles, but why bother?

Taggart said he would decide this week on his quarterback for next Saturday's game at Michigan State, and it didn't sound as if that would be Floyd.

"I was disappointed in him. He played well in practice and did the right things, but tonight he didn't," Taggart said. "(Backup QB) Bobby (Eveld) did a nice job. We are going to see what happens. We will look at film and make an evaluation on our quarterback and the other positions."

Floyd might be a nice practice player that just can't handle the lights. He was part of the reason (even though small) Skip Holtz got fired as USF coach last year.

You have to believe Taggart can fix this. In his first season at Western Kentucky, the Hilltoppers went 2-10 but had winning seasons the next two years.

The question now is will he get the time to straighten out a USF ship that was blindly sailing without a mast against McNeese State.

"I've been through this before. It was great when we scored the first touchdown, but then they hit us in the mouth and we didn't respond," Taggart said. "I thought we would play better. When things got tough we folded and had guys who didn't play with great effort, and that's wrong. We are going to get the right guys in. Our gap responsibility was terrible. We didn't have guys where they were supposed to be."

Another person who has to be called to the front is defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan. He is supposed to have more knowledge than a football encyclopedia and has coached forever at every place on this planet.

Bulls fans can be forgiving, but are intelligent. They know their team regardless of its weaknesses is not supposed to lose this bad to an FCS opponent. McNeese State was paid $40,000 to come here and be a sacrificial lamb and instead ate the host.

Taggart pulled Floyd after his second interception for Eveld, and USF fans cheered for the first time since Marcus Shaw broke loose for an 80-yard touchdown run on the Bulls' first play from scrimmage.

Floyd completed 9 of 20 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns that accounted for 14 points the wrong way.

Eveld responded with a 59-yard touchdown pass to Stephen Bravo-Brown, and now we have another quarterback controversy, one that will probably be brief.

Eveld threw another TD pass to Andre Davis and could've had a few more except they were dropped. He completed 10 of 20 passes for 137 yards with at least several drops, depending on how you counted. He should start the next game and probably will.

But it's against Michigan State on the road, and the Bulls' defense has to show up this time.

In Taggart's first year as an assistant at Stanford under Jim Harbaugh, the Cardinal went 4-8 and had some embarrassing defeats, giving up 40-plus points in three games before turning the program around three years later.

USF doesn't want to wait three years, and neither does Taggart.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2112.

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