South Florida has yet to enjoy much success in the American Athletic Conference under Willie Taggart. The third-year coach will try and snap the Bulls' postseason drought in 2015, but only has eight returning starters to help him to accomplish this. South Florida also will have new coordinators in place on both sides of the ball in what could be a make-or-break season for its head coach.
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Previewing South Florida’s Offense for 2015
After struggling for two seasons under Willie Taggart’s smash-mouth style, the South Florida Bulls have changed to an up-tempo attack, heavy on spread principles and getting their skill players open in space. But who will run the show? After the transfer of drop-back quarterback Mike White, sophomore Quinton Flowers seems the best candidate because of his quick feet, improved accuracy and quick thinking. Senior Steven Bench could figure into the equation, but he has been mistake-prone.
Consistency would be welcomed. Taggart has used five different starting quarterbacks in two seasons.
The quarterback’s biggest job will be to get the ball to running back Marlon Mack, the American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year in 2014. Mack galloped to 1,041 yards and nine TDs, including a program-record 275 yards in his debut. Mack is an electrifying open-field runner, but he’s more impressive in displaying patience to read his blocks and aggressiveness in hitting the hole.
Opportunities abound at wide receiver, where junior Rodney Adams has the most experience and sophomore Ryeshene Bronson displays the most potential. Meanwhile, it’s the last chance for senior tight end Sean Price, a former four-star recruit who has fallen short of his potential due to injuries and inconsistency.
There are spots to fill along the offensive line, especially at center as three-year starter Austin Reiter has departed. The rapid-fire offensive pace will also be an adjustment for the guys up front.
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Previewing South Florida’s Defense for 2015
After South Florida’s defense plunged to a No. 69 national ranking and twice allowed 589 yards in a game, there’s a new look with former Ole Miss linebackers coach Tom Allen taking over as coordinator. Allen has implemented a 4-2-5 formation, transforming a linebacker into a hybrid position and creating better chances to counter spread offenses.
The Bulls have playmakers in junior linebacker Nigel Harris, who led the nation in forced fumbles per game, and senior linebacker Tashon Whitehurst, who had a monster spring game (19 tackles), along with a steady leader in sophomore linebacker Auggie Sanchez. Big things are expected from redshirt freshman linebacker Jimmy Bayes.
Defensive backs are prevalent. Allen likes the aggressiveness of senior safety Jamie Byrd and the improvement of sophomore cornerback Tajee Fullwood, while sophomore cornerback Devin Abraham could be a future star.
The Bulls desperately need a better pass rush up front. Senior Eric Lee is the most experienced defensive end, while highly recruited big men junior Derrick Calloway and sophomore Deadrin Senat are expected to man the interior.
Previewing South Florida’s Specialists for 2015
The Bulls have one of the nation’s top punters in senior Mattias Ciabatti, who averaged a school-record 44.4 yards with 18 kicks of 50-plus yards and 22 downed inside the 20. Sophomore Emilio Nadelman will get first look at placekicker and must replace reliable Marvin Kloss, who was a Lou Groza Award finalist in 2013.
It has the look of a produce-or-else season for Taggart, who is 6–18 with the Bulls and must avoid the program’s fifth straight season without a bowl appearance. Taggart fired three assistant coaches immediately after last season, including both coordinators. He changed the offensive style of play, shocking observers who said Taggart was too stubborn.
Mack is a wonderful weapon. There are some building blocks on defense. But the schedule is formidable, and the Bulls must make a big jump to reach the postseason. The offense may be picking up the pace, but Taggart is running out of time.