USF looks to spoil Taggart’s Florida Atlantic debut
South Florida will visit Florida Atlantic in a nonconference game Saturday in Boca Raton, Fla., one week after the teams faced adversity of different types.
USF suffered the worst loss in program history with a 52-0 trouncing at then-No. 7 Notre Dame.
At least the Bulls (1-1) reached the field. The Owls’ scheduled season opener at Georgia Southern was postponed after FAU players tested positive for COVID-19.
FAU head coach Willie Taggart, who replaced Lane Kiffin in December, said about 25 players would have been unable to play last week. On Monday, Taggart told media members he remained optimistic this week’s game would be played.
“It’s kind of like any other week — we prepare the guys that we have here and get ready for South Florida,” said Taggart, who will face USF for the first time since coaching the Bulls from 2013-16.
“With COVID, there are no certainties each and every week. You have to prepare with the guys you have. And as you prepare, there’s no guarantee they’ll still be there on Saturday.”
FAU entered the season having lost 15 starters from last year’s 11-3 team. The most glaring offensive departure was that of quarterback Chris Robison, who passed for 3,701 yards, 28 touchdowns and six interceptions last season. Redshirt junior Nick Tronti, a dual threat, has been tabbed to start. Freshman Willie Taggart Jr. is among the QBs.
Junior Malcolm Davidson, who rushed for 711 yards (7.0 yards per carry) last season, headlines a veteran group of runners.
Redshirt senior John Mitchell leads a receiving corps that includes three graduate transfers: receivers TJ Chase (Clemson) and Aaron Young (Duke), and tight end Michael Irvin II (Miami).
Coordinator Jim Leavitt, USF head coach 1997-2009, coaches an Owls defense that lost 11 of its top 13 tacklers from last season. The top returnees include senior cornerback Zyon Gilbert and redshirt junior linebacker Ahman Ross, who moved from safety.
South Florida, which opened the season beating The Citadel 27-6, will be aiming to improve on both sides of the ball after being outgained 429-231 at Notre Dame.
Head coach Jeff Scott is in his first season after five years as Clemson’s co-offensive coordinator.
“They’re a fast football team. They can really run on both sides of the ball,” Taggart said. “They’re very aggressive, especially on defense.”
Sophomore Jordan McCloud was the most productive (8 of 14, 64 yards) of three Bulls quarterbacks who played vs. Notre Dame. Alcorn State transfer Noah Johnson also got significant time, and freshman Katravis Marsh played, too. North Carolina transfer Cade Fortin could return after being unavailable the first two games.
“It’s still open,” Scott said of the QB competition on the USF football weekly radio show. “Overall, we have just not been consistent enough at the quarterback or wide receiver position — that’s the most frustrating thing for me through two games.
“I really believe what I see in practice, that we have the ability to be explosive through the air.”
Sophomore Johnny Ford (six carries, 70 yards) led the Bulls’ ground attack last week.
Defensively, the Bulls sport a secondary that returns four 2019 starters: senior cornerbacks KJ Sails and Mike Hampton and junior safeties Nick Roberts and Bentlee Sanders.
The USF defensive line has had to replace ends Greg Reaves and Kirk Livingstone, who were stalwarts the past three seasons.
“We just try to communicate efficiently and go in with the mindset of grinding it out every single day,” said defensive tackle Thad Mangum, a graduate transfer from Wofford. “We know we have to learn and continue to grow each day to get better and better so we’re the anchor of the team.”
–Field Level Media