When/Where: Monday December 21st at 2:30 p.m. ET- Marlins Park (Miami, FL)
TV: ABC or ESPN
Odds: Hilltoppers open at 2.5 point favorites.
Radio: USF-IMG Network (820 AM)/www.GoUSFBulls.com
All-time series: USF leads 4-2.
Last Meeting: 2010. USF won 24-14 in Tampa.
Beach Bowl Facts:
-Willie Taggart Bowl: USF head coach Willie Taggart faces alma mater Western Kentucky. Played quarterback at WKU from 1995-98. One of only four players in school history to have jersey retired. Served as head coach from 2010-12 where he led the Hilltoppers to their first bowl bid in school history before accepting the South Florida job.
-Western Kentucky 3-1 all time in bowl games. USF is 4-2.
-First bowl appearance since 2010 Meineke Car Care Bowl.
-USF has sold 5,000 tickets for the game. Taggart: “Big time. I know the Bull Nation is very excited where the football program is going. This is where we all wanted it. We want to keep riding this wave of momentum into the offseason and keep building this thing back up. That was one thing I was excited about when I took this job because I know how passionate our fan base is and those ticket sales show their excitement.”
-Bulls ranked 11th nationally in rushing offense. 239 yards shy of setting school record for most yards on offense.
-Bull Shark defense ranked 15th in nation in tackles for loss per game (7.5).
-Program record eight players named to all-conference teams.
First Team All-AAC: RB Marlon Mack, CB Deatrick Nichols.
When Willie Taggart’s South Florida squad takes the field on Monday afternoon at Marlins Park in Miami, they will look to put an exclamation point on the end of a program defining season when they battle #25 Western Kentucky in the second annual Miami Beach Bowl.
After a slow 1-3 start to the season in where many speculated Taggart being on the proverbial coaching hot seat, the Bulls exploded down the stretch in the months of October and November, rattling off victories in seven out of their next eight contests and capturing bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010. The high powered “Gulf Coast Offense” led by Quinton Flowers and Tom Allen’s 4-2-5 Bull Shark defense hit their strides at the right time, storming through AAC completion, including 22+ point beatdowns of Cincinnati and eventual AAC East champion Temple.
For the seniors on this Bulls roster. Everything has come full circle. Entering a program in shambles at the tail-end of the Skip Holtz era, veteran Bulls players had to fight, scratch, and claw their entire tenure in Tampa to get South Florida back to respectability amongst college football’s rising programs. Now, they’ll have the opportunity to cap their careers off with an in-state bowl victory over a ranked foe. Senior Thor Jozwiak soaked it all in after the Bulls’ final practice on Saturday.
“What a way to go out. Spending my last practice down here in Miami getting ready for a bowl game. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The last time we saw USF on the field of play was a 44-3 Thanksgiving rout at I-4 rival UCF. With nearly a month of rest in between games, teams can be rusty and out of sync heading into bowl matchups, but TE Sean Price, also playing in his final game as a Bull, emphasized the focus and eagerness this team has.
“This team has matured throughout the season. I feel like we know how to handle a little success. We can have a little fun but when the game time comes, we can flip that switch and turn it on. We’re very anxious. We’re kind of tired of hitting each other so it’s about time we get out there and hit somebody else.”
Western Kentucky notables:
-Conference USA champions. #25 AP ranking is first national ranking in school history.
-Five game winning streak.
-Currently ranked 11th in Bill Connely’s S&P+ rankings.
-Hilltoppers offense fourth in nation in scoring (44.2 ppg). Ninth in yards per game (520.3).
-Second in nation in yards per play (7.1).
-QB Brandon Doughty: 71.8 completion pct., 4,594 yards, 45 TDs, 7 INTs.
-RB Anthony Wales: 140 carries, 981 yards, 7 TDs.
-WR Taywan Taylor: 79 receptions, 1,356 yards, 17 TDs.
-CB Prince Charles Iworah: 39 tackles, 10 pass break-ups, 4 INTS.
-LB T.J. McCollum: 100 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT
-LB Nick Holt: 84 tackles, 4 sacks, 3 INTs
WKU stormed through C-USA this season, putting up 44.2 ppg in the process and even staying competitive with SEC power LSU in Baton Rouge. The Hilltoppers finished off their best season since joining FBS with a dominant 45-28 victory over Southern Mississippi in the C-USA championship game, earning their first AP Top 25 appearance in school history.
The main catalyst for their success is senior QB Brandon Doughty. A Davie, FL native and an original Taggart recruit at WKU, Doughty has been near the top of every passing category in FBS for the past two seasons. His whopping 45 passing TDs and 71.9 completion pct. currently leads the entire nation, while his 4,594 yards is only second to Matt Johnson at Bowling Green.
Keys to a USF victory:
The key for USF’s first bowl victory since 2010 is simple. Tom Allen’s Bull Shark’s must find a way to neutralize the dynamic combo of Brandon Doughty and WR Taywan Taylor. The Bulls may find themselves in a shootout on South Beach, so defensive stops will make all the difference.
Anticipation and enthusiasm will go a long way for this bowl game that could turn into one of the hidden gems of bowl season. Senior defensive end Shawn Hill certainly is eager to get back on the field one last time.
“I’m ready to get in between those lines and play smash-mouth football like USF Bulls know how to play.”