USF has fallen to a 3-5 record and the chances of achieving its pre-season goal of a bowl game appearance is fading, but the Bulls are still taking it game by game.
“You can’t look at is as my last four games playing because then, panic sets in,” senior nose tackle Todd Chandler said. “This is my fifth season and I’ve seen what happens when panic sets in. As seniors, we’re stepping up and forcing that one-game-at-a-time mindset.”
The Bulls must win three of their remaining four games to have a shot at a bowl game. These games are: Houston, SMU, Memphis and rival UCF.
“That’s been one of our goals but we have to keep in mind how we’re going to get there,” coach Willie Taggart said. “We’re just not going to get to a bowl game; it just doesn’t happen like that. We’ve got to take it one game at a time. We have to keep preaching that and not allow anybody to bring (bowl games) up when they’re around us because it really doesn’t matter right now. The only thing that matters is Houston.”
Taggart announced Monday he would reopen the quarterback battle heading into Saturday’s game against Houston. He said Tuesday that that battle will include all four quarterbacks, not just the two frontrunners of training camp, sophomore Mike White and junior Steven Bench.
“We need some production, we need to score some points and we need to get going,” Taggart said. “I think competition brings the best out of everyone.”
Taggart reiterated he is not necessarily looking for the best player, rather the best competitor that “will not lose.”
“I’m not looking for a guy to throw the ball or run the ball,” Taggart said. “I’m looking for the guy that’s going to do everything in his power to not let his football team lose, a guy that’s so competitive that no matter how tough it gets, he’s going to win the ballgame.”
White and Bench lead the competition, but with Taggart’s “wide open” mindset, freshman Quinton Flowers is not out of the mix.
“He’s come along,” Taggart said. “Does he know the offense as well as Steven and Mike? He doesn’t, but he knows it, he works at it and he’s getting better at it. Quinton is a really talented kid and we’ve got to get him the ball so we all can see how talented he is.”
Flowers has seen game action in two games this season, completing one of four passes with two interceptions.
Taggart said he has decided to mix up the way the team watches film. Instead of watching the game film separately with offense and defense at different times, the team watched it as a whole.
“Each guy had to get up and explain to his teammates what he did wrong and how he’s going to correct it,” Taggart said. “It was good because sometimes the offensive guy doesn’t see what the defensive guy does wrong or the defense doesn’t see the offense … it’s easy to put the blame on Mike White, but when the guys watched the film, they saw that it was a collective effort.”
Tribute to the troops
Saturday’s game against Houston is the Veterans and Military Appreciation Game. The Bulls will wear the same white helmets, but with American flag accents to pay tribute to men and women in uniform.
“I have much respect for what (the armed forces) do,” junior offensive tackle Brynjar Gudmundsson said. “They are the true heroes and it’s an honor to put a helmet on like that and show our respect.”
For Chandler, this game will hit close to home.
“My uncle (Elijah), he risked his life. He’d tell me stories about some of the things that’d be going on over there. I’d be like, ‘wow, it’s a whole other world over there,’” Chandler said. “He goes over there and risks his life day in and day out to help this country — this nation — stay where we are and fight for our freedom. It’s amazing what he does and I appreciate him for it.”
Chandler also has two sisters — one in the Army and one in the Navy — stationed in Tampa and Kentucky.
Junior Sean Price, who suffered an ankle injury in USF’s loss to Cincinnati, was suited up for practice with the exception of cleats and is day to day, according to Taggart.
Sophomore defensive back Johnny Ward is also day to day, dealing with an ankle injury.