Three games into the Willie Taggart era, the USF offense has scored a grand total of 37 points.
They’ve also scored 35 for the opposition through fumbles and interceptions.
Embarking upon a bye week, Taggart said he’d prefer to have his team not play this weekend.
“I want these two weeks to regroup. To get our guys back together and try to find a way to get our offense going. The only thing hurting us right now is our offense.” Taggart said.
With two more turnovers returned for touchdowns in the Bulls’ 28-10 loss to Florida Atlantic on Saturday night, Taggart said the Bulls (0-3) are a bad team right now because they can’t take care of the football.
For three consecutive games, the team has been singing the same tune:
“Turnovers,” Marcus Shaw, senior running back, said. “We keep turning the ball over.”
McNeese State, Michigan State and now FAU have combined for five defensive touchdowns at the expense of the Bulls, either by a fumble recovery or interception.
Three USF quarterbacks have scored touchdowns for the other team.
After two offensive possessions with senior quarterback Bobby Eveld running the show against FAU, the second ending in an Owl defensive touchdown when Eveld ran into Shaw and caused a fumble, Taggart had seen enough.
In came the player that Taggart lured from Penn State following the spring semester.
USF sophomore Steven Bench, Taggart’s first offensive recruit to see action, stepped under center for the second game in a row and led USF to a field goal, to make it 7-3.
But this time Bench didn’t leave the game, aside from one play, in which he lost his helmet.
The outlook was bright for USF when senior linebacker DeDe Lattimore intercepted Owl quarterback Jaquez Johnson, giving Bench his second drive and the offense just 27 yards to the end zone.
Bench then found senior fullback Ryan Eppes wide open near the right hash mark for a 25-yard touchdown pass.
The first USF career touchdown for both players made it 10-7 in USF’s favor, bringing cheers and a sigh of relief to the Raymond James Stadium crowd.
The next USF drive was even more impressive, 11 plays for 69 yards, until Shaw was stopped on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line in what Taggart called a “huge swing in momentum.”
USF wouldn’t catch sight of the end zone for the rest of the night.
Two FAU possessions later, the Owls scored a touchdown on a nine-play, 80-yard drive with 35 seconds remaining in the first half to take a 14-10 lead.
A Bench fumble and interception resulted in two more Owl touchdowns in the second half, and the Bulls were suddenly defeated by a team that scored fewer points than the Bulls did in their first game.
If there was ever a time for Taggart to get his first win, this was it, but the first-year coach admitted he never saw the losses to McNeese State and FAU coming.
“Never in a million years,” he said. “I’ve never been a part of anything like this. An offense that turns the ball over for points like this.”
As for Bench, the transfer escaped several sacks with his mobility and brought the crowd to life for a few drives, but ultimately suffered a similar fate to sophomore Matt Floyd and Eveld, with two turnovers of his own.
“Turnovers kill an offense and hurt a defense too,” Bench said. “They put everyone in a bad situation. We’ve turned the ball over too much. I turned it over tonight. It’s on everybody and we got to get it corrected or else the season is not going to turn around.”
Taggart wouldn’t commit to Bench as his quarterback yet.
“I need to look at the film and evaluate it to see who is going to give us a chance to get some kind of offense going,” he said.
As Taggart pointed to the offensive woes, the defense held its opponent to under 265 total yards for the second straight game and three total touchdowns in those two games.
Similar defensive performances are typically strong enough to warrant a win — Michigan State and FAU allowed similar yardage totals in victory, but junior defensive lineman Elkino Watson didn’t point fingers.
“We play for each other and turn the ball over as one unit,” Watson said. “We got to keep playing for each other. There’s still a lot to play for. Conference play hasn’t started yet. A conference championship is still on the table. We got to get better.”12