Maybe it was all the lights pointed at him in the room or maybe it was the angle. In any case, a teary-eyed USF coach Willie Taggart walked into his first USF post-game press conference Saturday night after the Bulls suffered a devastating blow to their schedule, losing in the team’s first home opener, 53-21, to McNeese State, a Florida Champion Subdivision (FCS) team.
Gone was the persona that had been seen strutting around the field in his blue mechanic-like shirt, smile and all.
Taggart said he lived through his “biggest nightmare” and was surprised by the “piss poor effort” given by his team.
This was not the way Taggart, the man who returned to his home state after 18 years of playing and coaching elsewhere, wanted to debut in his homecoming and coaching career as a Bull.
“Since Day 1, I’ve been preaching how it’s all about how the team is going to respond when things get tough — how we will respond in the face of adversity,” Taggart said.
But apart from some spark in the second half, the team appeared to have no response.
As senior safety Mark Joyce said, the Bulls “laid an egg.”
“We didn’t come to play,” Joyce said. “McNeese did, and we played terrible.”
Joyce, throughout training camp, was noted as one of the leaders of the Bulls defense — the same defense that allowed the Cowboys to score five of their six times in the red zone. The Cowboys finished the night with 424 yards of total offense.
Offensively, USF didn’t look much better.
Fans saw a glimpse of senior running back Marcus Shaw’s explosiveness when, on the first play for the Bulls, ran up the middle for an 80-yard touchdown. The big play turned heads.
But those same heads were facing the floor as McNeese State’s onslaught began shortly after.
Shaw’s night ended with 147 yards on 12 carries, snagging five receptions for 47 yards. While on paper his performance looked great, it was a costly fumble by Shaw in the second quarter, when the Bulls were trailing 9-7, that quickly erased the positives.
The fumble would lead to a touchdown by McNeese State and USF wouldn’t score again until the third quarter.
Shaw entered the post-game press conference holding onto a football. It wasn’t the game ball.
“I keep thinking about the fumble,” Shaw said. “It cost my team a lot. I feel like I didn’t fumble. I feel like my knee was down. “
As McNeese State piled on during the first half, fans began to leave the game — a game that turned into Bobby Eveld’s audition for the starting job at quarterback.
After throwing 9-for-19 in the first half and a pick for six, redshirt sophomore Matt Floyd’s campaign as a starter wasn’t looking great, and after he threw an interception to open the second half, it was the senior’s time to shine.
Eveld finished his night 10-for-20 with 137 yards and two
touchdowns. On his first drive at quarterback, Eveld connected to redshirt junior Stephen Bravo-Brown for a 59-yard touchdown. He followed with throwing his second to junior Andre Davis in USF’s only trip to the red zone.
“I had great protection from the line and guys were getting open,” Eveld said. “That makes my job easier, when everyone does theirs. It’s a team sport.”
Taggart said he was happy with Eveld’s performance and Bulls fans may see a new starter under center next week at Michigan State.
“Bobby is going to have a chance,” Taggart said. “He came in and did a great job for us.”
Although he was impressive, Eveld didn’t walk into the press conference any happier then Shaw and Taggart.
From players wanting to leave the field to some bickering with each other on the sidelines, Taggart described his team as “mentally fragile.”
Each word precise, as if he were a man on a mission.
“We’re going to evaluate this film,” Taggart said. “We had some guys quit on us and we’re not going to allow that. Those days are over. If it’s a freshman that wants to get in there and do it right, we’re going to put him and play him for four quarters. I know exactly where this team is now.”12