I was able to speak with Matthew Staton of SoFloBulls.com yesterday and Matthew Manuri of SoFloBull.com today. The co-owners of SoFloBulls have been covering the USF Bulls for years so when they reached out to me, I returned the favor.
Make sure you follow Matt on Twitter also.
Bearcat Insider: Head coach Willie Taggart was on the hot seat at the beginning of the 2015 season, what did he do to turn the narrative around in South Florida?
Manuri: A lot of folks were calling for Taggart's head in early 2015 after the Bulls got off to a lackluster 1-3 start, falling on the road to Maryland and losing a close one at home to the Paxton Lynch led Memphis Tigers. Taggart seemingly switched his scheme overnight, unleashing a hybrid run-first spread attack dubbed the 'Gulf Coast' offense. The rest is history.
The story behind the change is truly the best part. Here’s USF Coach Willie Taggart’s rendition:
“We had our guys over to my house, every week a different position group. And that week, it was running backs and quarterbacks. We were all eating and they were joking around, [Darius] Tice being Tice, the show-stopper. And he [Tice] mentioned, ‘Hey, Coach. Quinton’s scared of you. For whatever reason, he’s afraid of you Coach. When you come around, he’s just not the same person.’ He [Tice] was like, ‘Coach, there’s nothing to be afraid of with you. Tell him you’re pretty cool, Coach. He ain’t got to be afraid of you.’ And he [Tice] was like, ‘We need Quinton to be like he was in high school. He made plays, and he did all these things and made these gestures, we need him to be that guy.’ And I recall Tice telling Quinton, ‘We need you to be the first one out of the locker room. We need you to be the first guy out of the tunnel. We need you to walk out in the middle of Ray Jay and look around, and then come back and tell everybody the coast is clear.’ And it was funny, Quinton was just sitting around and smiling. He didn’t respond to anything. And then when the guys were leaving, I held Quinton back and said, ‘You know Tice and D’Ernest and those guys were joking with you and everything. But what they were really doing was screaming into you what they are looking for from you. They want you to lead. They want you to show out and they’ve been waiting for a guy at quarterback to do that.’ And Quinton was like, ‘Yeah, I got you Coach.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Let me go, Coach.’ And the rest was history.”
Bearcat Insider: How has quarterback Quinton Flowers improved this year?
Manuri: Flowers spent an inordinate amount of time at the facility in the spring and over the summer, entrenching himself with the team and truly becoming the Bulls’ figure head. A clip from the American Athletic Conference Media Day in Providence this year catches a key Flowers’ quote, “When you see five, you see nine, When you see nine, you see five.” Flowers was referring to always spending time with USF star running back Marlon Mack to build a stronger relationship on and off the gridiron. The ripples from Flowers’ growth into the face of the Bulls’ squad are clearly identifiable, including increased team continuity, confidence, and mental resolve.
Bearcat Insider: How do the Bulls like to attack their opponents? I see that Flowers has been a pure dual threat is it more planned running or him creating after initial reads are there?
Manuri: The Bulls come out seeing red, going fast and looking to strike quickly. Whether it’s a first play 84 yard deep shot from Quinton Flowers to Rodney Adams like last week, or a gaping hole give to Marlon Mack on a zone read for a long trot for six. USF plays offense like the Bulls are being swarmed by a lethal lioness pride. From the jet sweep to Rodney Adams, to flea flickers to D’Ernest Johnson for the downfield pass, the Bulls get creative and find ways to utilize the overall team speed to toast the opposition.
Everything is a read for Flowers, though at times fans feel uncertain and rightfully so. Flowers has made some excellent decisions and some equally god awful reads as well. The USF fan base tends to focus on the negative with Flowers, but the Miami natives overall performance has been solid to date.
Bearcat Insider: I hear about linebacker Auggie Sanchez a lot, is he hands down the star player on the defense? What does he bring to the table?
Manuri: Middle linebacker Auggie Sanchez is the commander and chief of the USF ‘Bullshark’ defense. Sanchez is all hustle, every single play, of every down, of every quarter. Sanchez gets his nose in everything, covering from sideline to sideline while directing each member of the defense. Four games into the 2016 season Sanchez has already amassed 40 tackles (22 solo), four tackles-for-loss, three sacks, a pass breakup, forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
Bearcat Insider: What is strength of this current Bulls defense?
Manuri: The Bullshark defense swarms when tackling, and is always prowling for takeaways. I would say the depth and overall team speed are both keys, but the decisive factor separating this squad from previous seasons is playing experience. The majority of the players you see on defense came to USF and saw meaningful field time right away, Nigel Harris, Ronnie Hoggins, Deatrick Nichols, and Nate Godwin are prime examples.
Bearcat Insider: Do you think if the Big 12 expands that the Bulls have a strong chance to get it?
Manuri: I truly do not know, and I honestly think no one does. The home and home series USF setup with Texas beginning at Austin in 2020, 2022 in Tampa, and back to Austin in 2024 certainly cannot hurt the Bulls’ expansion case. ESPN ranks the Big 12 expansion candidates weekly, and for two consecutive weeks the ranking has slotted the Bulls in the No. 2 spot. Interestingly, USF also has a 2021-2022 home and home series with BYU. I will say the expansion calamity is begging to feel like a beauty pageant.
Bearcat Insider: Prediction?
Manuri: This one is tough to call, regardless of the results from a season ago. If USF shows up in Cincinnati full throttle, I truly don’t see the Bearcat defense hanging. Mind you, even in my pre-season predictions I mentioned this game as a doozy.