The first spring football season of coach Willie Taggart’s career at USF is in the books, and it was one that marked a change in coaching philosophy.
With a fresh approach to the game, including the signing of two free agents per team, a comprehensive player draft and a post-game meal of steak for the winners and hot dogs for the losers, the Taggart-era started off on an energetic note.
The White team led by coach Ron Cooper defeated the Green team 14-11 on Saturday night in the “Green Machine” game, and though Taggart made it clear that his team is “by no means where it needs to be,” it appears the “Coach T philosophy” is wearing off on his players.
Redshirt junior linebacker Reshard Cliett, who had five tackles for the White Squad and the only interception of the game, made one of the more telling statements regarding the 2013 spring football game and spring practice season.
“We got more out of it (the spring game), everyone was so competitive,” he said. “The biggest improvement we made so far, is coming together as team.”
Junior wide receiver Andre Davis, who slipped to the No. 18 selection in the spring game draft and scored two touchdowns for the White Squad, echoed Cliett’s sentiments.
“It’s a lot more fun,” Davis said. “Coach T brought his staff from Western (Kentucky) and everything we do is competitive and (there’s) no sitting back. Coach holds us to a high standard so we have to meet that standard.”
With the new “Do Something” attitude instilled by Taggart, Davis seems to think the team is sure to improve in the win column this fall.
“We a have very talented team, and we did last year,” he said. “But I feel like Coach T brought in the right pieces to the puzzle.”
One of the most important pieces to the puzzle, though, was brought to USF by Holtz in the recruitment of Notre Dame-transfer Aaron Lynch in 2012.
It wasn’t long before the former Scout.com five-star defensive end and White team free agent-signee made his presence known at Raymond James Stadium, as he sacked freshman quarterback Tommy Eveld about 10 minutes into the game.
“Aaron’s a really good football player,” Taggart said. “I think he’s going to help out this team big time. He’ll come out this summer and work hard too.”
There were only three touchdowns scored in the game, and two of those touchdowns came from the White team’s combo of sophomore
quarterback Matt Floyd and Davis.
“There were some big plays made. Matt threw some great balls,” Taggart said. “But when you put the ball on the ground, it takes away from all the good things you did. It’s good that we have plenty of time to correct that.”
Bobby Eveld went 14-of-24 for 143 yards with no touchdowns and threw the interception to Cliett, but he did rush for a touchdown.
“Eveld wasn’t as good as I expected, but he made a couple nice throws,” Taggart said.
He added that no one is ahead in the race for the starting quarterback position yet.
One element that a Taggart-coached team is known for is an impressive running game, with four consecutive 1,600-yard rushers at Western Kentucky, but that element was conspicuous with its absence from both squads Saturday evening.
Running backs from both teams combined for just 86 yards, led by Willie Davis, who racked up 39 yards on 15 carries for the Green team and 33 yards on 11 rushes from the White teams’s Marcus Shaw.
Splitting up the first-team offensive line amongst two teams didn’t decrease the amount of running room for Bulls’ running backs, Taggart said.
“I thought the running backs ran the ball throughout spring practices better than they did today,” he said. “There were a lot of holes and they didn’t trust their blocks. The offensive line did a great job and the running backs missed those holes.”
With an announced crowd of 4,606 at the stadium, Taggart was greeted with a long line of autograph-seeking Bulls fans after the game.
“It was great to see our fans out here to support the team, and they stayed the entire time,” He said, “That gets me fired up. Like I told the team, a lot of people are counting on us to do things the right way. They don’t owe it (the support) to us. We gotta work for it.”