The stands in Raymond James Stadium grew quiet Saturday with 7:44 remaining in USF’s Homecoming game against No. 20 Louisville.
With the Bulls trailing 34-3, USF fans either made their way toward the exit or simply sat back and watched as the Bulls lost their fourth-straight Homecoming game and snapped a two-game win streak in the conference.
But the near-silence and murmurs among the crowd resulted from an interesting decision made by USF coach Willie Taggart.
“We just tried to get something to spark on our offense,” he said. “We all know that’s the biggest issue on this football team.”
That’s what Taggart said of his decision to put freshman quarterback Mike White late in the fourth quarter as the Bulls were losing to the Cardinals, 34-3, in the midst of the Bulls’ third-worst offensive performance in school history.
USF’s 133 yards of total offense against Louisville came third to its 27-3 loss to Pittsburgh last season where the Bulls had an all-time low of 117 total yards. It was the last game played that season and Skip Holtz’s last time as USF coach.
With White said to be the
starter for USF moving forward, this makes for USF’s fourth starting quarterback this season and the third to line up under center on Saturday.
“I wanted to see what the kid can do for us,” Taggart said. “He’ll get that opportunity again next week.”
White was seen warming up on the sidelines with freshman receiver Zach Benjamin, after sophomore quarterback Steven Bench threw a 70-yard touchdown to the other team.
After senior Bobby Eveld went down with an ankle injury late in the second quarter, Bench stepped in for the Bulls, still recovering from a knee injury suffered Oct. 5.
Two plays after Bench took a sack, on a third and 20, Bench let the ball rip 14 yards downfield, where Cardinals defensive back Charles Gaines picked off the high ball, took it back for Louisville’s last score of the day.
Even with White seen throwing the ball around on the sidelines after a pick-six, few thought the freshman would be seen stepping under the center.
But in the aftermath of Louisville’s junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s dissection of the USF defense, White made his way into the huddle to call his first play as an NCAA quarterback.
Though the Bulls got to the quarterback with a
season-high of five sacks, two on Bridgewater, the Heisman hopeful didn’t lose his poise.
“Teddy is a great quarterback. He can sense pressure,” redshirt junior defensive tackle Todd Chandler said. “To be able to stop Louisville, you have to get in the head of Teddy and we just fell short today.”
Two of the five sacks were USF senior linebacker DeDe Lattimore’s first of the season, along with redshirt junior linebacker Reshard Cliett’s first.
“It just comes down to film study,” Lattimore said. “Teddy is a great player, I just knew what play he was going to run.”
Through methodical drives, in the face of multiple USF defenders, Bridgewater went 25-of-29 through the air for 344 yards and three touchdowns.
Taggart said he loved Bridgewater’s ability to keep his cool and that his work ethic is something that is needed among USF quarterbacks.
Bench and Eveld combined for a total of 90 yards, going 7-of-17 and taking four sacks.
“I want guys to come in and work, especially at that position,” Taggart said, “I want guys to be, when they’re not studying, studying football. College quarterbacks, that’s what they do. I guarantee you that’s what Teddy Bridgewater does.”
With Bridgewater out for Louisville’s last two drives of the game, and with the scoreboard reading 34-3, it was safe to say the game was put away by the time White stepped in.
The first play White called in his collegiate debut was a rush for no gain to redshirt sophomore running back Willie Davis.
White’s second play, his first pass, went incomplete to senior receiver Andre Davis.
Then, on the third play of his first drive on third down, White threw it right between the numbers of redshirt junior receiver Stephen Bravo-Brown, who was waiting for it on a hitch route.
White would finish his day 1-of-2 for five yards.
“He’s a smart kid,” Taggart said. “He has a little swagger, which you like at that position. He has great anticipation and touch on the ball. He’s a pure drop-back quarterback.”
This week, Taggart said he’ll be looking to see if White, as the new starting quarterback, can do things off the field that he looks for in the position, such as studying film and putting in the extra work needed.
If all goes well for White, he and the Bulls will be looking at a short week going on the road to take on Houston at 7 p.m. Thursday.