In one of its most impressive wins under coach Willie Taggart, the Bulls dominated Cincinnati 65-27 in 2015. But the fourth-year coach has made it clear his team isn’t taking the Bearcats lightly due to last season’s result.
With AAC play beginning this week for USF (3-1), the Bulls are looking to not only rebound from a loss against Florida State, but also begin their quest for the program’s first conference championship.
“It’s important because it’s what we set out to do. This is our goal,” Taggart said. “This is what we want to get accomplished, we want to win this conference. It’s a team that’s on our side of the conference, a team we knew we were going to have to battle with. It’s at their place, a hostile environment.
“But if you want to be conference champs, these are the things you have to go through.”
Even though the Bulls won’t be overlooking Cincinnati (3-1) on Saturday, junior defensive back Tajee Fullwood expects the Bearcats will be out for vengeance.
“I was saying earlier that I feel like they’re going to try to return the favor from what we did last year,” he said. “They’re not feeling sorry for us with what happened this past week, and we’re not feeling sorry for ourselves, either.”
Though it’s unclear whether Bearcats starting quarterback Hayden Moore will be available after injuring his ankle in Week 3 against Houston, Taggart said he doesn’t see much difference between Moore and backup Ross Trail.
“I think both quarterbacks are kind of similar (in terms of) throwing the ball and athletic ability,” Taggart said. “When you see them both in there, they aren’t changing their offense, they’re still running the same offense. I guess by experience you could say they could change something, but from what they do and what they’re going to do, I don’t think they’re going to change much.”
Moore has thrown for 785 yards and seven touchdowns with three interceptions through three weeks, while Trail has passed for 278 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Gunner Kiel, who started against USF last season, will likely serve as the backup.
Following a poor defensive effort against the Seminoles that resulted in nearly 500 rushing yards and 55 points allowed, the “Bull Shark” defense is hoping for a repeat of last year when USF held the Bearcats to three first-half points.
“They’re eager to find some solutions on how they’re going to get better,” Taggart said. “When you turn on the film (from FSU), you watch and you’re like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ because these aren’t things we’ve done before. Whether it’s coaches or players, there were things done that we’ve never done before.
“I think it’s really important our guys look at themselves in the mirror and ask, ‘What did I do? Could I have done more in this ball game?’ I think everyone could have done a better job. Everyone took turns making mistakes in that ball game.”
Aside from the uncertainty of who will be leading the Bearcats’ offense Saturday, USF will also have to be prepared for Cincinnati’s dual rushing attack of senior Tion Green and junior Mike Boone.
Through four weeks of splitting carries, the backfield mates have produced nearly identical stat lines.
Green has rushed for 247 yards and a touchdown on 58 carries, while Boone has gained 216 yards and two touchdowns on 61 attempts.
With almost a year elapsed since the Bearcats’ embarrassing defeat in Tampa last season, coach Tommy Tuberville has been eyeing Saturday night’s rematch.
“Last year, they put it to us pretty good,” Tuberville said to Cincinnati.com. “We had no rhyme or reason how to stop what they were doing. We had guys out of position. That’s coaching and playing. We have to do a lot better job this year. We’ve worked very hard on this game.”