Before USF entered its Thursday night game, true freshman quarterback Mike White was simply asked by coach Willie Taggart to manage the offense. Not necessarily to win the game, nor to carry the team on his back.
But despite suffering a 35-23 loss to Houston in his first collegiate start, White became something more than a manager – he became the answer to an anemic Bulls offense.
He just may be the best guy to take snaps for the Bulls since
B.J. Daniels, unless Thursday’s performance was simply a stroke of beginner’s luck.
White finished the night 26-of-41 through the air for 311 yards. More importantly, he scored – twice.
The White-led Bulls offense was within 10 yards of the end zone, and the freshman had completed all three passes on the drive. Had this been any other team in the NCAA, a touchdown would be expected.
But after three straight games without an offensive touchdown, it was easy to picture USF being unable to capitalize and settle for another field goal.
That’s when White did the unexpected and completed his fourth straight pass of the drive to redshirt junior tight end Mike McFarland across the middle of the end zone.
USF seems to have finally found someone who can run the Taggart-style offense, even if he is only 18 years old.
White’s 26 completions in his first start equals that of sophomore Steven Bench’s through two starts and five game appearances. It’s just 12 fewer completions than senior Bobby Eveld in his four starts and appearances in six games.
His completion rate of 63 percent far surpasses Eveld and Bench’s combined 40 percent.
But those are mere numbers compared to the big stat, the one that really counts.
He scored twice.
Yes, it’s worth mentioning twice, as well.
White’s second touchdown came early in the fourth quarter.
Down 28-16, he approached the red zone within 10 yards of the goal line, dropped back and launched the ball high to the far left corner, finding McFarland once more on a fade route.
It didn’t look like a freshman threw the ball.
Fans were promised in the offseason by players and coaches that the tight end would be heavily featured in the offense.
Apart from one four-catch performance in Week 5’s loss to Cincinnati, the 6-foot-5 McFarland never saw the ball more than twice in a game.
He saw it four times in Houston.
Even before USF’s scoring drought began, it was clear the Bulls weren’t clicking in Taggart’s style of play.
Leading up to Houston, USF hadn’t had a leading receiver with more than five catches in a game.
In fact, the way White was throwing around the ball on the Cougar defense showed that USF receivers could actually get open and catch the ball. When completions are so few and far between, as they were in games prior, the receivers are hard to notice.
The Bulls seemed to have dressed up as a team with a passing attack for Halloween night.
Before the freshman came in, it had become the usual to see Eveld get flustered, roll out and toss the ball out of bounds, or see Bench do the same, trying to force the ball to receivers who either weren’t open or would drop it.
But on national television, White got the ball to 10 different receivers, six of whom had more than one reception.
He even helped junior receiver Andre Davis look like a “freak show,” as his nickname suggests.
Leading the team with nine catches for 134 yards, the typically double-covered Davis found his Mr. Right in White.
White almost connected with Davis on a deep touchdown pass down the right sideline with 5:42 to go in the game, but the catch was called back on a questionable pass-interference call.
A Houston receiver committed a similar action on the ensuing drive and received no call, sparking an argument between Taggart and the referees.
The argument over the penalty was, perhaps, out of the many penalties for USF, the only warranted one.
Nineteen penalties were called on the Bulls. It wasn’t pretty, especially when the penalties totaled 170 yards.
Taggart said afterward that he has never been part of 19 penalties in one game.
If White’s performance on the field was impressive, then USF’s lack of discipline displayed with easily avoidable penalties is equally unimpressive.
Taggart said prior to the Houston game that the Bulls didn’t need Andrew Luck, just a bit of regular luck.
But even if the current Indianapolis Colts quarterback was taking snaps for USF, it would have been hard to leave Houston with a win through the barrage of penalties.
The lack of a running game didn’t help either with senior Marcus Shaw, back from injury, gaining just 34 yards on 18 carries. He had 127 yards on 20 carries in his last full start.
Now, entering a bye week with a home game against Memphis on Nov. 16, it seems that Taggart is slowly putting together the pieces for some success.
He’s found a quarterback who can handle the offense with relative ease, the special teams and defense have shown for weeks that they can each make plays and now it’s just a matter of Shaw getting back to his explosive self and eliminating the penalties.
The bye week should benefit Shaw in his recovery from a hamstring injury dating back to Oct. 5, but whether or not it’s long enough for Taggart to discipline his team and cut the amount of penalties down remains to be seen.