USF football coach Willie Taggart won’t have any trouble sleeping this Friday night as his team readies to open its season against Towson University at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday.
“That hotel bed is pretty cool now,” Taggart said. “On those Friday nights, I won’t have my 1-year-old (daughter’s) foot kicking me in the back or something, you know. So, I’ll be able to grab the pillow and it’ll be nice and cold and I’ll sleep pretty well. I think you’re able to sleep when you know you’ve prepared and had a good week of practice and you know your guys are locked into a game plan.
“If you go throughout the week and don’t have those things, that’s when you struggle on those Fridays.”
In previous seasons, the Bulls gave plenty of reasons for their head coach to toss and turn the night before game day — a 6-18 record in his first two seasons.
Now, USF is primed to embark on a season filled with more hype than hate for the first time under Taggart, beginning with FCS opponent Towson.
Towson enters Saturday’s season opener without a proven starter at quarterback. Former starter Connor Frazier, who graduated following last season, passed for 1,883 yards and seven touchdowns including 550 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns.
The Tigers’ new starting quarterback, Morgan Mahalak, has yet to play a single snap at the collegiate level, despite transferring from Oregon.
Coupled with Towson’s limited play against FBS teams, USF heads into Saturday night’s game with a degree of uncertainty regarding their opponent.
“You watch the high school film (on Mahalak) and that’s probably all you can go off of,” Taggart said. “You can hear what a coach has to say, but he hasn’t been at Oregon for over a year now … and I don’t think (Towson is) just going to change their entire offense when a guy just got there in training camp.”
Even with a new quarterback with limited game film, the Tigers are a power-style team that relies on a steady rushing attack. Heading Towson’s run-game is 5-foot-8, 217-pound senior running back Darius Victor.
“I tell you what, (Victor) is a really good football player,” defensive coordinator Raymond Woodie said. “Several years ago when we are at Western Kentucky, we had a guy by the name of Bobby Rainey, who was once with the Bucs. His body type, you know, 5’- 8’’, 215 to 220, but this kid is actually 230, and he’s a load, man. He can block, he can run, he definitely looks like a D-1 major prospect when you watch him on film.”
In 2015, Victor rushed for 1,021 yards and 15 touchdowns on 207 attempts over 11 games.
Towson finished 7-4 in 2015, losing 28-20 to East Carolina in its only game against an FBS opponent that season.
When it comes to attacking the Tigers defense, quarterback Quinton Flowers is confident in his preparation for game day.
“They’re a base (3-4) team, they play the normal coverage,” Flowers said. “Like coach (Shaun) King said, I have to go out there and read safeties. On film, safeties tell you everything, so I’ve been watching that. My safeties always tell me what they’re doing and I just have to go to the right guys at the right moment.”
Though USF doesn’t know exactly what to expect in its first game of the season, Taggart said he’s confident in his players’ motivation lingering from the bitter taste of the Bulls’ loss in the Miami Beach Bowl.
“Our guys are highly motivated to go out there and leave no doubt this year and get it done,” Taggart said. “We embrace the expectations and it’s funny because everyone keeps saying, ‘Oh, how do you handle this team with these expectations?’ But this is how we’ve been since Day 1, this is all we’ve always talked about, but we haven’t reached it yet and haven’t accomplished those things.
“But those have been our goals since Day 1, and it’s pretty cool that everyone else is starting to believe in that.”