‘Everyone is still on the bus’

Every week since the season started, USF coach Willie Taggart has preached positivity. 

With a 0-4 start after a loss to No. 14 Miami on Saturday, the first-year Bulls coach said the negatives are bound to come with the start they’ve had, and while Taggart’s “stay positive” campaign could be getting played out to fans, redshirt senior defensive end Julius Forte said it’s what the team needs.

“I think Taggart understands and does a good job of understanding that leadership reflects attitude and that a positive attitude and energy creates positive happenings,” he said.

Taggart remains understanding of that, despite the frustrations that come with it.

“I saw some (good plays) on Saturday and said ‘we’re so close’ and ‘that’s frustrating,'” Taggart said. “I know what we can do and what we’re capable of and it’s frustrating that we’re not showing that.”

Forte saw a positive happening toward the end of the Miami game, when the defensive end had a ball tipped into his hands for a pick, taking it back for his first career touchdown and interception.

Apart from Forte’s score, the Bulls’ defense picked up another interception, which matched last season’s total number of picks. The defense even forced two key fumbles on scoring opportunities for the ‘Canes, but the offense couldn’t get things going.

The offense’s low productivity, running game aside, has been another issue for the Bulls, something Taggart and his staff plan to address heading into their inaugural game in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) at home Saturday against Cincinnati. 

Sophomore quarterback Steven Bench has been said to have a tendency to hold on to the ball longer than he needs to, but offensive coordinator Walt Wells said it’s much deeper than that.

“I think it’s a combination of everything,” Wells said. “When you’re holding the ball too long it means you’re unsure of the coverage because as you move forward in Division I football, those windows close, so that’s one thing our guys have to understand. The depth of the route and precision of the route has got to be on point so when the protection does hold up and it’s there, the ball can get to them.”

Still, Wells said Bench is improving, as the struggle in the passing game is understandable.  

“The ball comes out of his hand different than (Matt) Floyd and (Bobby) Eveld, and that’s something people have to understand,” Wells said.

“The receivers have to get used to that, the line has to get used to how (Bench) maneuvers in the pocket. That all goes into the timing of the pass.”

With the line making its own adjustments to Bench behind center, the defensive line, Forte said, is a “working progress” with just three sacks through four games.

“We work hard in practice, but unfortunately we haven’t gotten the results we want,” Forte said. “We still have a lot of football to play and we plan to get everything we look for out of this season.”

And while the defensive line plans to get what they want out of the season, the team as a whole seems to have the same mindset.

Junior wide receiver Andre Davis, who had a season-high five catches against Miami, said the team’s goals are still “intact.”

The goal, as both players and coaches have repeatedly preached, is to win the AAC.  

Taggart said the Bulls are close and Forte said the team is “hungry.”

“No one has lost faith,” Forte said. “Everyone is still on the bus. We went through a lot of adversity at camp. We saw this, not our record, but adversity coming. We knew we would have to stay together and through this adversity I think we’ve grown closer. We’re thirsty for that first win.”