USF hasn’t won against a ranked opponent since it defeated Notre Dame in the opening game of the 2011 season.
Senior nose tackle Todd Chandler said he remembers the campus was full of excitement and that’s something he wants to bring back in his final season at USF.
“This will be a great week to get us a win, not only to be number one in our conference, but to beat a ranked team and get that buzz back at USF,” Chandler said.
While the players are hoping to get the campus excited about the team, coach Willie Taggart is more concerned with just getting back in the win column.
“Where we’re at right now, you should be excited about any win,” Taggart said. “Whether it’s a ranked team or not, it’s a game and you want to win it – and it’s a conference game.”
A win for the Bulls over No. 19 East Carolina would keep them atop the AAC standings, but it would also give the team what it has been craving: confidence.
“The more we win, the more confidence our guys get,” Taggart said. “When you win a game you’re not expected to win, it gives you tremendous confidence. I think if there’s anything our football team needs, from a mental standpoint, it’s that.”
As far as what it would take for the Bulls to pull off the upset, Taggart was clear that the Bulls will have no room for mistakes.
“We need to go out and have a perfect game,” he said. “That’s what it takes to win games like this, with teams that can score as fast as they can, and playing with the confidence they have. You have to be able to match it.”
Bulls finally healthy
After bruising his sternum in the season opener against Western Carolina, senior wide receiver Andre Davis will return to action Saturday, which is something his teammates are certainly looking forward to.
“You can just see it in our guys now in practice, just flying around out there and having fun,” Taggart said. “(Davis has) been making some of the catches he makes and it fires guys up. I see a difference in our offense, just with his presence being around.”
Taggart said one of the most visibly excited players has been sophomore quarterback Mike White.
“I haven’t seen a frown on (White’s) face all week,” Taggart said. “He’s walking around fired up.”
Davis’ return marks the first time that all USF starters will be healthy since the opening game. When he was out, he spent his time studying film and breaking down defensive coverage, which he said has taught him more about the game.
“I actually know how to prepare even better, like seeing coverages and how to get open on routes,” Davis said.
Chandler will also rejoin the team after sitting out against Wisconsin after he took a gloved finger to the eye at practice. He couldn’t play because he had yet to regain vision in his right eye after the incident.
USF added four-star Stanford transfer Reilly Gibbons in its bye week, and while he is a highly regarded player, Taggart said this isn’t how he wants to build his program.
“We don’t want to be that program where guys go off somewhere else and then want to come back home,” Taggart said. “We’re not going to build it that way. It’s important to have kids that want to be here.”
But bringing talent back to Tampa has already proven to be a strong suit for Taggart, after being able to recruit junior safety Jamie Byrd and sophomore wide receiver Rodney Adams, as well as Gibbons.
Taggart said he’s able to get these players back to Tampa by maintaining good relationships, even though they didn’t originally choose to play for USF.
“We don’t ever burn any bridges,” Taggart said. “You hear stories about coaches that get ticked off and go off on a kid because they don’t come to your school. That’s not the right thing to do, we don’t get bent out of shape over losing guys.”