While today may be a day to dress up for most, for USF, it’s time to suit up a for the Bulls, who head to Houston for a 7 p.m. kickoff against the Cougars under the national spotlight in ESPN’s Thursday night prime-time matchup.
For fans, the Halloween kickoff may bring something scarier than any movie has to offer — playing on the road, led by a freshman quarterback in his first game against one of the two undefeated teams in the conference.
True freshman Mike White was thrown into the seemingly never-ending rotation of quarterbacks, when he stepped onto the field during USF’s Homecoming loss to Louisville, late in the fourth quarter.
White threw two passes, one of which he completed for five yards. USF coach Willie Taggart said White is a work in progress.
“He’s still learning,” Taggart said. “They’re not all just going to understand (the offense) in a year, but I think he has a better understanding of it than when he came into training camp. Mike has all the tools, the work ethic and leadership to do it, and now it’s just a matter of going out there (tonight) and putting it all together.”
White enters as the signal caller for an offense that hasn’t scored in over a month.
USF’s last offensive score was Sept. 28 against Miami, with two seconds left on the clock. Take away that touchdown, which was against Miami reserves, and it’s been 15 straight quarters where the Bulls’ offense has been incapable of getting into the end zone.
Taggart said the lanky Fort Lauderdale native, listed at 6-foot-5 and 195 lbs., is “excited to get the offense going.”
Taggart recalled leaving the office Monday night, when White was studying film past 11 — hours that are on par with the staff.
“Hell, I think he’s a coach now,” Taggart said. “It’s late at night when I’m leaving, and he’s still here. You’ve got to love it.”
But this isn’t the first time Taggart has seen quarterbacks working overtime in the film room.
The measuring stick to which a college quarterback should play is a bit tall when it comes to the former Stanford running backs coach.
“I remember being at Stanford with Andrew Luck, and he was the same way,” he said. “You knew it was only a matter of time before he showed you what he can do.”
White has a long way to go before he can fill cleats that large, and his first challenge won’t be easy, as he goes toe-to-toe with a Houston offense that averages 42 points per game.
Even going through three different quarterbacks before White, the Bulls average just 14 points per game, with heavy help coming from their defense and
USF (2-5, 2-1) has seven field goals and three
defensive touchdowns in the past three games, at a time when the offense ceased to do so.
The Cougars’ (6-1, 3-0) defense doesn’t pose any less of a threat, allowing 22 points per game — a score which USF hasn’t reached in over a year, since they lost to Syracuse, 37-36, last season.
Taggart isn’t looking for White to be the answer to all of USF’s woes though.
In fact, he said he’s looking for him to “manage” the game. Taggart said they don’t need Luck, not completely that is.
“We would love to have an Andrew Luck,” he said. “But we’re just looking for a little luck.”
Heading into Reliant Stadium on Thursday against a strong Houston team could be daunting for the young White, but if he could find any solace during the matchup, it’s who he’s pinned up against at his position.
Lining up under center for Houston is another true freshman in John O’Korn, a quarterback from Broward County, just like White.
O’Korn hasn’t played much like a freshman for Houston through seven games though.
The St. Thomas Aquinas alum boasts a 63.2 completion percentage, going 139-of-220 for 19 touchdowns and just four picks.
Taggart said he doesn’t expect perfection out of his freshman quarterback, as long as his mistakes are “honest” ones. Taggart is even taking plays from White’s high school days to help with the comfort level.
“I told Mike to give me some of his high school plays and we’ll run those,” he said. “We want him to be comfortable.”
Joining the effort to spark the offense and possibly take pressure off of White, will be running back Marcus Shaw, who, barring any setbacks, is expected to play tonight.
The senior averages 6.4 yards per carry with 575 yards, and was a Top 25 rusher heading into his last start against Cincinnati on Oct. 5.
USF’s last meeting with Houston was on the road in 2002, where the Bulls outlasted the Cougars in a 32-14 win.
Now, with the first-year quarterback and USF’s first-year staff, the Bulls look at the prime-time matchup as an “opportunity” in the White-led offense.
“It’s a huge opportunity for us,” Taggart said. “Now we have to capture that