Commentary | USF coach Willie Taggart says it's crucial for players to believe in his system

September 3, 2013 


OCTAVIO JONES | Times USF Coach Willie Taggart talks with Quarterback Steven Bench (2) during the third quarter of the game. McNeese State defeated USF 53 to 21 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on Saturday, August 31, 2013.

JONES, OCTAVIO — Tampa Bay Times

University of South Florida fans still hung over from the McNeese State pounding should keep things in perspective.

The hard reality is that, as currently constructed, McNeese State might be better equipped to win.

Football teams are judged by many factors, talent being just one. There is experience, the ability to handle adversity, avoid turnovers and be disciplined.

USF failed all those categories in its 53-21 loss to the Cowboys on Saturday night.

As he had done so many times in his career, USF head coach Willie Taggart talked to the Harbaughs afterwards. NFL head coaches Jim and John told their spiritual brother what he already knew, but it didn't hurt to hear it.

"It was a good conversation. They said there are going to be bumps in the road, and you learn a lot about your team after the first game, but stick to the plan," Taggart said.

After looking at game film, Taggart said his players on defense lost their intensity and stopped believing in his system. They started doing things on their own, which is a recipe for disaster.

"When things got bad, our guys started to look

for more bad things to happen, got frustrated, stopped playing within the defensive system and tried to play football their way and make plays rather than stay within the scheme," Taggart said. "Getting our guys to understand we have to play within the system is part of the culture change we are trying to instill. You have to play within the system -- don't do things on your own. We had guys who weren't in their gaps or were getting there too late."

It's part mental panic, and only discipline can cure the ailment. Taggart was concerned about how his players would react to adversity. He found the answer early unfortunately.

"I know exactly where we are. We are not a winning team yet, but our goals are still in front of us and we are not giving up," Taggart said. "We got hit in the mouth and didn't respond well. We didn't play fundamentally sound defensively and offensively, but it looked worse than it was on film."

There were four turnovers that led to 23 points by the Cowboys, and one came on the only good drive the Bulls had under quarterback Matt Floyd. It was returned 76 yards for a touchdown, which could be looked at as a 14-point turnaround.

USF fans are going to need patience. A football program is not a fast-food restaurant, and this one was left in shambles.

The Bulls secondary against McNeese had four freshmen who saw action, including Nate Godwin, who had three solo tackles; Johnny Ward, who had an interception; and Lamar Robbins. Another freshman, Jalen Spencer, saw time at nickel back, and freshman Nigel Harris saw some time at linebacker. Those guys are a reason for hope, but patience please.

Taggart has experience turning around two dreadful programs, at Stanford and then Western Kentucky. Both were not fixed the first year.

He has been on both sides of embarrassing losses. He was on the staff at Stanford in 2007 when the 41-point underdog Cardinal beat Southern Cal for the biggest statistical upset in college football history.

He inherited a Western Kentucky team in 2010 that was 2-20 and lost 20 straight. He was 2-10 the first year and started off the second season 0-4 including a 44-14 defeat to Division I-AA Indiana State.

If Taggart ever had a reason to succumb to adversity that was the time, but he didn't and went on to win seven of eight.

Taggart said he hasn't decided on his quarterback for Michigan State this Saturday, but Floyd just doesn't sit like the right fit, at least not now.

He has seven interceptions and no touchdowns for his career. He did not complete a pass to a wide receiver the other night and didn't show any field presence. Against Michigan State, the Bulls can't afford to play cautious on offense and risk turnovers. Bobby Eveld showed the poise he displayed going back to his sophomore year when he led USF to an upset over Miami. He gives the Bulls the best chance. He also showed an ability to move the ball with his legs, which might have surprised some people.

"We are going to let these guys (Eveld and Floyd) compete and make a decision at the end of the week on the starting quarterback," Taggart said.

Upsets happen

USF wasn't alone. There were seven FCS (IAA) schools that beat IA schools last weekend.

It's nothing new: In 2007, Appalachian State went into the Big House and beat Michigan; winless Temple in 1998, a four- touchdown underdog and trailing by 17 at halftime, defeated Virginia Tech 28-24; and how about '98 again when future Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke threw six interceptions, and FSU was upset by North Carolina State 24-7; and in 1985, 37-point underdog Oregon State defeated Washington 21-20. And then Oregon State went on to end its season with four straight losses and finished 3-8.

The ultimate upset: The 1942 Boston College team was 8-0 and had allowed 19 points all season was taking on little ol' 4-4 Holy Cross. Final score: Holy Cross 55, Boston College 12.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.

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