College football | USF Bulls hope unified team can pull out first victory vs. FAU Owls

Taggart saw good signs in loss to Michigan State

adell@bradenton.comSeptember 14, 2013 

South Florida Michigan St Football

South Florida's Marcus Shaw (20) is brought down by Michigan State's Tyler Hoover, left, and Denicos Allen (28) during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, in East Lansing, Mich. Michigan State won 21-6. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

AL GOLDIS — AP

TAMPA -- USF head football coach Willie Taggart wears a lot of hats.

Last week, he wore what could be called his Sigmund Freud cap as he tried to change the thinking of a team that was embarrassed a week earlier by McNeese State.

Though the Bulls lost 21-6 to Michigan State, Taggart's mind game worked. The defense allowed only one touchdown and showed support for the team's beleaguered offense.

Against Florida Atlantic on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium, Taggart might want to break out his auto mechanic work shirt, especially if he has one with a Corvette emblem.

His offense is running on fumes and breaking down at the worst time.

The Bulls rank 117th out of 123 bowl subdivision teams in total offense and next to last in passing efficiency with a 73.79 rating. USF is 113th with five turnovers, and its three interceptions rank among the most in the country.

Michigan State scored on a fumble recovery and interception. McNeese State scored on an interception, and two other touchdowns were set up by turnovers.

Taggart was pleased with how the team stuck together after the miscues against Michigan State, particularly when linebacker DeDe Lattimore went to the offense after a turnover and told them not to worry that the defense would get the ball back.

"That's big time. I hadn't seen that from our guys since I've been here. That's a sign our football team is starting to get it," Taggart said.

The gesture didn't go unnoticed by quarterback Bobby Eveld, who played most of the Michigan State game and is slated to start against FAU.

"There were a bunch of guys coming over and saying, 'We believe in you guys.' That gives you confidence going back on the field knowing your defense has your back like that," Eveld said.

The defensive players have shown a trust in each other, which the players did not against McNeese State. Part of this has been prompted by the return of defensive lineman Julius Forte.

"His leadership is probably what was missed the most. The energy and juice he brings to the field is invaluable," USF defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan said. "The guys are getting better each day in practice, and they are getting more comfortable with each other. The first sign of that was accountability (last week). Guys came to the sideline and admitted what they did wrong."

Now the focus is on the offense to step up.

"Last week I was an attitude coach and was looking for guys who were going to play with an attitude and work hard in practice and I thought we did that," Taggart said. "Losing is the worst feeling ever, but I was encouraged knowing we improved in some areas that we didn't do well the week before."

In FAU head coach Carl Pelini, USF faces a foe who put a dent in Taggart's Western Kentucky program last year.

The Hilltoppers were 6-3 and headed for their best season of I-A football when they played host to an FAU squad that had lost 15 straight road games and were 2-7. WKU quarterback Kawaun Jakes threw three interceptions, and FAU returned a fumble for a touchdown in a 37-28 victory.

"Coach Taggart's teams are well-coached and are not going to hurt themselves. The team you saw against Michigan State is their team," Pelini said. "You could tell they buckled down. They like to rely on taking the lead and grinding it out. We have to start fast and not hurt ourselves."

FAU (0-2) has also struggled on offense in losing to Miami and East Carolina, and the Owls also have uncertainties at quarterback.

Taggart said success for his team is about believing.

"When they start believing they can make plays, you will see a big change," Taggart said. "Our defense missed some plays last week. We had an interception right in our hands and had a fumble we could've recovered. You have to dream about those things and visualize those things, so when they do come you can take advantage of it. We are not there yet."

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