A short week of preparation in college football brings an altered schedule from the typical Saturday-to-Saturday routine.
Six days to prepare for a Black Friday game against UCF (9-1, 6-0) brings even more changes for USF (2-8, 2-4).
Aside from practicing Tuesday around 8 p.m. instead of 4 p.m., the Bulls will have a team meal at noon Thanksgiving Day at Champion’s Choice before boarding a bus to Orlando for the Friday 8 p.m. contest against the Knights.
While players and coaches have to spend time away from their families on Thanksgiving due to travels and preparation, coach Willie Taggart said it’s important to acknowledge the holiday as a team, even though there’s work to do.
“I always tell our guys it’s my wife, my two little boys and my 105 other boys that I have here,” he said. “That’s what’s important to me. It’s great that we can all be thankful that we’re here together. We’re all going through the struggle together, but there’s a brighter light ahead.”
Taggart said the team meal is one of his ways to teach players how to be better people, husbands or leaders. As for a practice schedule that was initially two 8 p.m. practices on Tuesday and Wednesday before the Wednesday practice was adjusted to the regular 4 p.m. slot to make for easier travel, Taggart said the night practices were designed to prepare for an 8 p.m. start Friday, the latest start of USF’s season.
“You like to think you make decisions like that cause it’ll help you,” he said. “Hopefully we go out and play a lot better … We practice in the afternoon and play at night usually. So why not practice at a high level at the time you’re going to play at a high level: at night. We had an opportunity to do it this week, so we’re going to try it out.”
Though the instate UCF-USF rivalry is dubbed the “I-4 Corridor Clash,” the Knights and Bulls have only met four times, and USF won all four matchups, the last being a 31-24 victory in 2008. Bulls senior cornerback Brandon Salinas grew up in the Orlando area, but said he’s never been to UCF.
“I didn’t have too many schools on my radar until just before I came here,” Salinas said. “I do wish we played all four years. People have friends or relatives that go there. It’s a great experience for friends to get into it.”
After the Bulls’ 16-6 loss to SMU last Saturday, junior center Austin Reiter said it was extremely important to carry on the winning streak in the UCF-USF rivalry. Very few players on the current USF roster were recruited when the two schools last played, so Taggart went back in the film vaults to give players perspective.
“I showed the team video of what it was like back then, and they saw Ray Jay packed,” he said. “I heard a lot of guys go, ‘Wow,’ and how packed it was at Bright House stadium when we went over there. It’s big-time college football and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I don’t think our guys here have experienced that yet.”
In order to “show up and show out” as Taggart said again Tuesday, USF will have to deal with a high-powered UCF offense that puts up 35.8 points per game, the most in the American Athletic Conference . Taggart said the UCF offense is led by one of the top two quarterbacks USF has faced this year in junior quarterback Blake Bortles, who’s second in the AAC in passing efficiency (169.2) behind Louisville junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (172.8).
“Both of those guys are NFL-type players,” he said. “Blake is so confident. He never panics. Doesn’t hold the ball long. He’ll take it and run. He’s a winner. He’s competitive and you can tell he has control over that offense.”
From USF’s freshman quarterback Mike White, Taggart said he is just looking for consistency.
“When it’s time to throw the ball, I just want Mike to go through all of his reads,” Taggart said. “I think we can help him by running the ball. We haven’t been doing that well enough.”
In addition to a rivalry game, the Bulls have a chance to knock UCF out of first place in the AAC standings and hand the Knights their first conference loss, but Taggart said record really doesn’t matter in these games and the matchup is more than bragging rights now that the two teams are conference opponents.
“It’s much bigger than the rivalry or bragging rights,” he said. “It’s a conference game now. This is why you play college football. How could you not get fired up for a game like this? Under the lights, Black Friday on ESPN, all these kids want to play on national TV.”