USF Football: Midseason report card

USF's 5-1 start through the first half of 2016 has given coach Willie Taggart plenty of reasons to smile. ORACLE FILE PHOTO

USF (5-1, 2-0) reaches the middle of its season with a chance to tie the best start in program history with a win against UConn on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium. The Bulls' offense picked up right where it left off last season, as it's yet to score under 35 points in 2016. The Bulls have been far from perfect, but this is certainly the best talent USF has had in close to a decade. 

Offense: A –

What was once the glaring weakness in the first two years under coach Willie Taggart has evolved into the focal point of the 5-1 Bulls. Entering Week 7, USF leads the nation in consecutive games for rushing for over 200 yards (11), scoring at least 35 points (10) and recording at least 440 yards of offense (10). Aside from a poor showing against Florida State, the Bulls have displayed an impressive quick-strike offense that has allowed them to win all five of their games by at least 16 points.

In their junior seasons, quarterback Quinton Flowers and running back Marlon Mack have given USF offensive weapons unlike the team has seen in years. In 2013, Taggart’s first season, USF rushed for 1,064 yards on the season. Through six games in 2016, Flowers and Mack have combined to rush for 983 yards. 

As far as receivers go, the Bulls have been a top-heavy group led by senior Rodney Adams. In his third year with USF, the senior has caught a team-high 25 receptions for 416 yards and four touchdowns. His 62-yard touchdown catch with six minutes left in USF’s game against East Carolina put the Bulls up two scores after nearly blowing an 18-point lead. 

Coupled with his jet sweeps, which have amounted to 13 rushes for 104 yards and four touchdowns, Adams have proved to be one of the Bulls’ most versatile threats. 


Defense: B-

What appeared to be another stout defense revealed itself to have its weaknesses against Dalvin Cook and the FSU offense. After jumping out to an early 14-7 lead, Cook led FSU to a 55-35 rout of USF that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated. After taking his first touch 75 yards for a score, Cook continued to have a career day, finishing with 329 all-purpose yards and two scores. 

Saturday against ECU, James Summers ran for 114 yards and a score in a comeback effort that just fell short. 

But despite its flaws, the “Bull Sharks” have lived by the “bend, don’t break” mantra all season. Aside from its game against FSU, the Bulls have allowed about 20 points in each contest, which should be enough to keep USF in most games. Even when there have been questionable halves of football, such as giving up 20 points in the first half against Cincinnati, or letting ECU sneak back in the game, the defense has made enough stops to win the game. 


Special Teams: B+

With how USF’s offense has been scoring this season, special teams has had fewer opportunities to impact the game than in prior seasons. In limited opportunities so far, Emilio Nadelman is 5-for-5 on field goals, with his longest coming from 42 yards out. 

Jonathan Hernandez, for the most part, has continued upon the excellence of former punter Mattias Ciabatti. Aside from a shanked punt off the side of his foot against ECU that went for 13 yards, he’s been formidable at switching the field for an offense that seldom needs it.