As the confetti settles in the locker room of USF, coach Willie Taggart and his team know that a win’s a win, but they have a much harder task ahead of them in Week 2.
After their 36-31 victory over Western Carolina, the Bulls have gained confidence that their program is on the rise after finishing last year with an abysmal 2-10 record.
“I’m really proud of our players and how they responded to a tough first half,” Taggart said. “I’m sure it probably felt like last year, but the sidelines didn’t feel the same way as last year, which was encouraging for me.”
Though the Bulls have the nation’s leading rusher on their team, they have major struggles that need to be fixed heading into their matchup with the Maryland Terrapins.
The most glaring issue is the inconsistent passing game. In USF’s season opener, sophomore quarterback Mike White was rushing his throws, not setting his feet and not making the simple throws he made confidently in practice earlier that week.
“I was watching the film over and over with the coaches and it looks like I just didn’t get the chance to get my feet set and get comfortable,” White said. “I didn’t get into a groove until the second half.”
This was in part to senior wide receiver Andre Davis leaving the game before halftime. Davis could miss this week as well, listed as “day-to-day” with a bruised sternum.
Davis’ injury could result in increased opportunities for the other components of the offense. Players like sophomore transfer Rodney Adams and senior Deonte Welch would likely have more targets and would be expected to fill the void if Davis can’t go.
The Bulls narrowly escaped last week’s game with a win against a subpar team. This week, the Bulls go up against a team that defeated James Madison 52-7 last week.
“They’re a spread team similar to Western Carolina … they run the zone read and the quarterback will (keep) it,” sophomore safety Nate Godwin said. “The quarterback probably isn’t as athletic as Western Carolina’s, but they’re similar in that way.”
While these offenses may be similar, the Terrapins’ defense is what makes them the much tougher opponent.
Anchoring the defensive front is senior Andre Monroe who leads returning FBS players in sacks per game (.63). Monroe had a team leading 9.5 sacks for the Terrapins last season.
On the offensive side, Maryland has been excellent at sustaining drives, a task USF was unable to do against Western Carolina. The Terrapins averaged eight plays per drive against James Madison, converting 50 percent of their third downs.
For USF, the offense will lean on its three-headed rushing attack. Taggart hasn’t named a starter for Week 2, but he said seeing freshman Marlon Mack as a starter, along with sophomore Darius Tice and freshman D’Ernest Johnson, isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
“We said coming in it was running back by committee, but we see something special in (Mack) and we’d be a fool not to continue to use him,” Taggart said.
Mack, who rushed for a record-tying 275 yards last week, has made a name for himself early on in his career. He was able to start after Tice, the projected starter, wasn’t able to play. Mack may have stolen the show Saturday night, but he wasn’t the only new Bull to make an impact in the win.
USF’s leading rusher (Mack), tackler (Nigel Harris), receiver (Adams) and interceptions leader (Jamie Byrd) were all players who were not on the Bulls roster in 2013. The Bulls have brought in great talent that could help them win more games this season.
One of the key matchups in Week 2 will be senior cornerback Chris Dunkley, who has only started one game at the position, against Maryland receiver Stefon Diggs.
Entering his third season as the primary receiver, Diggs has had 88 receptions and nine touchdowns for the Terrapins.
“We left (Dunkley) over there on an island a lot, but I think he held up,” Godwin said. “They kept throwing some great throws, but he came up and made some great tackles.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 3:35 p.m. Saturday at Raymond James Stadium. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.