Switch in Style High Risk/Reward for Taggart

Changes in offensive philosophy could be on the horizon for USF football. But these changes could potentially make or break Willie Taggart in Tampa.

This week has been a busy one for USF football. Running simultaneously with the yearly speculation over Big 12 expansion talks, USF nixed assistant coaches Ron Cooper, Chuck Bresnahan, and Paul Wulff. Many throughout Bulls country have interpreted these firings as a direct move imposed down from AD Mark Harlan to head coach Willie Taggart, and understandably so. With an offense that finished the season ranked 118th in total offense while struggling down the stretch to put any points on the board, both men understood that significant changes needed to be made to possibly right the ship for 2015. One of those possible changes could shift the dynamic and blueprint of what Taggart has attempted to establish in his two year tenure in Tampa.

With names such as former Manatee head coach Joe Kinnan starting to pop up as potential candidates for the offensive coordinator position (now open for the third time in three years), rumors and speculation have suggested that the Bulls may indeed switch to a more spread option based offensive gameplan for next season. A switch into philosophy this late into a coach’s tenure could either serve as the genesis of something special taking place or the seeds of disaster.

Since the beginning of his tenure at USF, Taggart has attempted to emulate the West Coast/Pro style offenses from his days coaching at Stanford alongside Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw. And why wouldn't he? This is the same type of offense that sent Toby Gerhart to New York City for the Heisman trophy ceremony and produced Andrew Luck. However, the issue here is that the plethora of talent surrounding Taggart in the state of Florida doesn’t necessarily lend itself to that kind of system. The key to this style of play relies heavily on physically dominant offensive line play, a power running game that grinds and breaks the defense’s will, utilization of tight ends in play action, and consistent play from the quarterback position.

While Marlon Mack burst out onto the scene in 2014 with over 1,000 yards rushing, USF struggled mightily in the other categories to make this system successful, even playing a game of quarterback roulette towards the end of the season that threw chemistry into disarray. The offense only averaged 17.2 points per game and was an overall pain to watch throughout most contests. A switch to a fast paced, up tempo spread offense may indeed be a better scheme to serve the strengths and abilities of the players on the roster and future recruits. Highly touted dual threat QB Quinton Flowers could be better utilized in an offense where he could use his arm and his feet to make plays, while incoming Texas JUCO WR Jarvis Baxter could step on the field and make an immediate impact alongside Mack.

However, changing systems this late into his tenure could be risky for Coach Taggart. Two years in, he has already established a recruiting philosophy with the particular players that he and his staff are looking to bring to Tampa. By now, the current roster of players have already become accustomed to what is to be expected. Alongside yet another new offensive coordinator, changing strategy now could create another year of growing pains and learning when the general consensus is that Taggart must start producing results immediately. Not to mention yet another quarterback battle scenario with an array of untested players in the skill positions could lead to another season of mediocre play offensively.

Whatever personnel decisions Harlan and Taggart make in the upcoming days will be crucial. Now more than ever, Taggart’s stint at USF and where he’ll be sitting in one year will most certainly be tied to what direction he decides moving forward. The moments from now until National Signing Day are crucial for the future of this program.

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