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USF receivers being ‘let loose’ with new, relaxed mentality

Junior Rodney Adams (87), freshman Chris Barr (1) and redshirt freshman Tyre McCants are all starting to produce for USF with a new, relaxed mentality. ORACLE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

USF has centered its offense around the rushing attack, but it was the passing game that became the difference-maker in Saturday’s 45-24 victory over Syracuse.

Sophomore quarterback Quinton Flowers completed 15 of 22 passes for a career-high 259 yards in the win. The Bulls (2-3, 0-1) averaged just 166.2 throwing yards per game in the four games prior.

So where did it come from? Solid practices and a meeting with coach Willie Taggart.

“(Taggart) came to us, he was like, he was going to let us loose, let us play,” junior receiver Rodney Adams said Tuesday. “We just took it as our advantage, we got back to playing like we did in high school, and we just played loose and free. 

“We just exploded in that game.”

Not one ball touched the ground, Taggart said, during any practices the week before the Bulls’ upset win over Syracuse.

That gave Taggart the green light to turn his players loose.

“The way our guys came out and the way they threw the ball around, it was pretty impressive,” Taggart said. “Not one ball was on the ground. That said a lot to me about where their mindset was and where we can go with our football team.”

After seeing the success the Bulls had with the passing game in practice, Taggart instilled a new game plan: play loose.

“On the field, in the meeting rooms, he bashed it into our heads every day last week,” Adams said. “He’s continued to do that this week as well.”

Instead of playing loose, Adams said he felt the offense had been playing like “robots.”

“It’s hard when you know you have to know a billion and one plays,” Adams said. “Then, for the head coach to come out and (say), ‘Just play how you feel, just play how you want,’ it worked.”

Adams, who had three receptions for 63 yards against the Orange, caught the Bulls’ final touchdown — a 14-yarder — with 7:30 remaining in the game. 

The performance of the receivers also caught the eye of defensive back and punt returner Tajee Fullwood.

“They were catching the balls, getting yards after catches. They were blocking very well, turning up the field and just going,” Fullwood said. “It was to the point where we were on defense and they were scoring and I’d be like, ‘Don’t worry about it, our offense is going to score. We’re not going to let them score again, but I know our offense is going to score.

“I feel like our receivers did a great job.”

The rhythm between Flowers and the receivers began flowing well before the coin toss, Taggart said.

“They were all together on Friday,” he said. “Seeing them in there watching film together said a lot. It was good to see those guys hanging out and watching film and trying to get better together. It paid off for them.”

But the work doesn’t stop now that the Bulls got their first win over a Power Five program since beating Notre Dame in 2011. USF travels to Connecticut for a showdown with the Huskies (3-3, 1-1) on Saturday at noon.

“The big hurdle for our team now is to put (wins) back-to-back,” Taggart said. “It’s hard to win because it’s football. But it’s even harder to win consistently … We have a really good conference, and we all see that now.

“We’ve got to come ready to play every single week.”