TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – Willie Taggart isn’t conceding anything in his effort to turn South Florida’s struggling football program into a winner, including what’s left of a disappointing first season on the job.
The Bulls (2-7, 2-3) have lost three straight heading into Saturday night’s game against SMU and already are assured of finishing the year with a losing record.
True freshman Mike White will make his third start against the Mustangs (4-5, 3-2) as Taggart continues to look for a spark on offense, however he’s not considering making wholesale changes over the final three games to get a head-start on next season.
“This year is not over. That wouldn’t be fair to this football team. These guys have worked very hard and done everything we’ve asked of them,” Taggart said.
“It’s only right that we go and do everything in our power to right the ship. We’ve got three opportunities left,” the coach added. “It’s on all of us to do whatever it takes to win ballgames … and make it right for this football program.”
SMU has won three of its past four and can become bowl eligible by winning two of its remaining three games, however that won’t be easy.
After facing USF, the Mustangs travel to Houston before finishing up at home against American Athletic Conference leader Central Florida.
Five things to watch as USF attempts to end its three-game skid and SMU seeks its fourth conference victory.
INEXPERIENCED QB: White played well in his first college start at Houston, however he struggled last week at home during a 23-10 loss to Memphis, finishing with four interceptions. Jones is impressed with what he’s seen of the freshman on film and doesn’t believe White necessarily took a step backward in his development last week. “It probably had more to do with Memphis’ defensive personnel,” the SMU coach said.
PROLIFIC OFFENSE: SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert leads the nation in total offense at 405.7 yards per game. He’s been even more productive lately, averaging 459 yards over his last five game, including 420 passing, with 17 touchdowns and just one interception. Overall, Gilbert’s completed a school-record 316 passes for 3,390 yards, 21 TDs and six interceptions this season.
CAN THEY SCORE ENOUGH: In addition to being last in the AAC in total offense, averaging 263.7 yards per game, USF is last in scoring offense at just under 15 points per game. Taggart remains confident the Bulls aren’t far from demonstrating they’re capable of moving the ball consistently and getting into the end zone. His optimism is based on what he’s seen in practice. “That’s why I’m not real bent out of shape. I know they can do it,” Taggart said. “It’s just a matter of getting out of our own way and stop hurting ourselves (with mistakes) and making it happen.”
PLAYMAKERS GALORE: WR Jeremy Johnson has 87 receptions for 925 yards and six touchdowns, however he’s far from the only option Gilbert has when SMU throws the ball. WR Darius Joseph has 79 catches for 691 yards and five TDs, and WR Keenan Holman has 57 receptions for 895 yards and a team-high eight TDs.
WE CAN CATCH, TOO: USF WR Andre Davis has posted consecutive 100-yard games receiving with nine catches for 134 yards against Houston and seven receptions for 110 yards vs. Memphis. He’s only the third receiver in school history to that, and he has a catch in a USF-record 27 consecutive games.
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