Coach Willie Taggart has heard it from all sides this season when it comes to quarterback Quinton Flowers.
TV commentators have questioned the sophomore’s arm. Fans aren’t sold on his ability to play the position. Critics have wondered since his high school days if another role would suit him better.
Taggart, to put it bluntly, doesn’t care.
“That’s why you don’t listen to all that stuff,” he said with a smile Tuesday. “You don’t listen to it all.”
In what has been arguably one of the most volatile positions on the roster during Taggart’s first two years as USF’s coach — with weekly competitions and constant turnover as the norm — Flowers has been concrete, keeping a firm grip on the starting job through four games.
That’s the way it should be. For USF’s sake, that’s the way it needs to stay.
“I think the kid is a heck of a football player and he’s only going to get better and better as he gets confident and guys around him continue to get better,” Taggart said. “But just watching him in practice, just watching him in the game — you see it coming. He’s getting comfortable and everything’s not herky-jerky anymore.”
Though it remains to be seen whether or not Flowers will be the Bulls’ long-term solution moving forward, especially with UCLA transfer Asiantii Woulard chomping at the bit to earn the job once he becomes eligible next year, the fact Taggart has stood by Flowers for the last month and a half should be applauded.
In his USF debut, Taggart stripped team captain Matt Floyd of the role three quarters into the team’s opener. For the remaining 11 games, the only time Floyd’s cleats touched the turf was when he was forced to slog to midfield for the pregame coin toss.
Floyd transferred to South Alabama during that offseason.
Last season, Taggart named Mike White the starter after an impressive five-game tryout as a freshman to close out the 2013 season, but benched him at halftime during a Week 9 loss to Cincinnati. White eventually earned back his spot in an open competition for the final two games after leading the Bulls to a come-from-behind victory at winless SMU on Nov. 15.
White also left the program, bolting for Western Kentucky after he slipped to third on the depth chart during spring practice.
The newfound steadiness with Flowers has not only been refreshing, but also a necessity if the Bulls plan on booking any trips to the postseason.
Winning programs don’t churn through quarterbacks midseason, and that’s one reason USF hasn’t been one under Taggart.
Plus, for a guy with only five career starts behind him, Flowers hasn’t been terrible. He’s completed 60 percent of his passes (51 of 85) for 525 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions. On the ground, Flowers is on pace to have a top-10 rushing season, with 209 yards and a pair of scores.
“My team looks up to me as a quarterback — as their quarterback. My (offensive) line believes in me. My receivers believe in me and I believe in them,” Flowers said before last Friday’s 24-17 loss to Memphis. “We just have to play.”
Though Flowers has had the confidence of Taggart and his teammates, it’s harder to find that outside the walls of the Lee Roy Selmon Athletics Center.
During USF’s game at Florida State on Sept. 12, ESPN color analyst Brock Huard, a former college quarterback, compared Flowers to a running back throwing a football.
Message board threads and various social media posts share the same sentiment. But Flowers doesn’t let it affect him.
“I call him a brick wall,” junior running back Darius Tice said. “Everything bounces off him. He can always just keep going and stay positive.”
Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. He needs to read defenses better. He needs to clean up turnovers with better accuracy.
But Taggart also needs to loosen the reins on Flowers and allow him to spread the ball around to his tight ends and receivers. If your backup running back is still leading the way in receiving yards by mid-October, that’s an issue.
But once the Bulls can clean up those issues — along with additional reps and experience that will come as the season rolls on — they might be in good hands with Flowers under center.
“As Quinton gets more comfortable with what he’s doing, we’ll give him more to do,” Taggart said. “I think each and every game, he’s getting comfortable. …
“He’s getting confident in what he’s doing and that’s going to pay off for us.”
Right now, that’s all you can ask for.