USF has struggled to find consistency in its offense this season and coach Willie Taggart has continually cited dropped passes as the root of the problem.
As the Bulls prepare for East Carolina over the next week, they will continue to find different solutions to fix the passing game, including shooting tennis balls at the receivers in practice.
“I think some of those things are coachable. You can get them corrected,” Taggart said. “We’ve done some different things with a tennis ball machine where they have to catch tennis balls. A lot of different things to get them on track.”
Taggart didn’t deny that he would look to younger receivers to make plays, but he wasn’t confident they could get the job done just yet.
“We can’t have young guys coming in and dropping balls, too. We need guys to catch the football,” Taggart said.
The passing game will be aided by the return of senior wide receiver Andre Davis, who has been back at practice all week.
Davis wore a red no-contact jersey during practice, but has been catching passes and will likely be an important factor in the offense against ECU.
“He’s back; he’s made some good catches around here,” Taggart said. “We’re not easing anyone in, we’re trying to find guys that are going to make plays so we can all ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh.’”
Preparing for No. 22 ECU
Sophomore defensive lineman Eric Lee said the team has watched film on ECU, but he wasn’t impressed with Heisman-candidate quarterback Shane Carden.
“Nothing special, just like any other quarterback,” Lee said. “He’s short, that’s my only assessment.”
Taggart disagreed wholeheartedly with his defensive lineman.
“I don’t think he was looking at the same East Carolina,” Taggart said. “They’re a very talented football team; the quarterback’s a stud. You watch the kids play and they play with a lot of confidence; they play fast.”
ECU’s offense, which put up 70 points against North Carolina this season, will likely present a challenge for the Bulls.
Senior defensive lineman Elkino Watson said the defense is focusing on putting pressure on Carden and knocking him to the ground.
“He’s a pretty good quarterback, but I think what we’ve got to do defensively is get after him, see how much he can take hits, and see how much he can get hit, get back up and be able to keep playing,” Watson said.
Progression of the defense
Lee said the way the Bulls played in the first half against Wisconsin is the model for how they want to play the rest of the season.
“We had a couple of penalties that held us back, but for the most part, the first half was our identity,” Lee said.
Lee said even though it was the best defensive half the Bulls have played this season, they are still working on fixing technique.
“Everyone’s working on their fundamentals,” Lee said. “Also, effort, running to the ball. ECU is a spread team; they’re going to be a lot of screens and throwing the ball.”
Deadrin Senat played in the place of injured senior nose tackle Todd Chandler against Wisconsin and Lee said he was impressed with how Senat handled the situation.
“I felt like he held his own,” Lee said. “There were a couple times where he was like ‘Hey, what’s the play?’ but besides that, I feel like that game was good for him for experience – being thrown into the fire.”
Chandler is returning to action against ECU after his eye injury and Lee said having the senior back will help the depth of the defensive line.
“With Todd coming back, being able to rotate them in, that’ll be a force to reckon with,” Lee said.
USF will host East Carolina at Raymond James Stadium on Oct. 11 at 7 p.m.