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Quarterback battle reopened

Mike White threw for 92 yards in the 34-17 loss to Cincinnati, but accounted for four turnovers before being benched. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

In Friday’s 34-17 loss to Cincinnati, coach Willie Taggart decided to make the switch at quarterback, pulling sophomore Mike White in favor of junior Steven Bench.

In Monday’s AAC teleconference, Taggart stated the starting position is open for competition, despite committing to White following last week’s game.

“We’re going to let those guys compete,” Taggart said. “We will watch the film and evaluate and make sure we have the right guy.”

Taggart doesn’t have pre-set criteria for choosing the Week 9 starter; he said he just wants a leader.

“I’m not necessarily looking for a thrower or a runner,” Taggart said. “I’m looking for a competitor that is going to come in and help this team win.”

White beat out Bench for the starting role in training camp, but has struggled since. This has been in part due to senior Andre Davis’ four-and-a-half-game absence and a sloppy offensive line, but some of the blame still falls on the second-year starter. 

“(White) wasn’t playing well at all,” Taggart said. “You look at his demeanor and it wasn’t a winning demeanor and wasn’t going to energize our football team.”

After leading the Bulls to their largest comeback in program history, White followed up with a 92-yard, four-turnover performance against Cincinnati.

“Last game, he throws a pick-six on the second play of the game and this game he throws another pick on the second play,” Taggart said. “Then he started pressing after that, worrying about making mistakes.”

Taggart said he told White at halftime he had one more series “to go out and prove yourself,” but White was unable to respond, fumbling on his first snap.

This caused Taggart to bring in Bench.

“We’ve told our guys, you never know when your opportunity will come, just prepare like a starter and make sure you’re ready to come in and help the team and (Bench) has done that, ” Taggart said.

Bench came in completing 9-of-14 for 147 yards and two touchdowns. This was not Bench’s first appearance: he threw for 162 yards in the Bull’s second game of the season against Maryland.

“He could’ve easily been one of those guys that moped around because he wasn’t the guy, but he came in and helped the team the best he could,” Taggart said.

As if the quarterback controversy wasn’t enough of a distraction, the team will be without leading-receiver Davis for the first half against Houston after being ejected for throwing a punch toward a Bearcat defender in Friday’s game.

“It was just what the refs said, he threw a punch,” Taggart said. “(Davis) was completely out of his character. I’ve never seen him that way and a lot of it was just frustration.”

Senior Chris Dunkley was also ejected for targeting in Friday’s game, but since it occurred in the first half, he does not have to sit out a half in Saturday’s game, per NCAA rules.

USF will return to Raymond James Stadium for the first time in three weeks when it takes on the Houston Cougars on Saturday at
4 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPNews.