Welp, we're 2-3. Probably a game under where we were hoping to sit at this point, but we are seeing signs this team might continue to improve.
I'm excited about this defense. So many non-seniors doing positive things on that side of the ball (Jamie Byrd, Eric Lee, Auggie Sanchez) and their ability to get pressure and stuff the run for a lot of the Wisconsin game was pretty encouraging. Plus they did exactly what they had to do against UConn, which is totally shut down a terrible team.
What I really want to see is if they can contain a High Octane ((c) Todd Graham) offense that throws it everywhere. We've seen them play well against Maryland, UConn, and Wisconsin (until they just ran out of gas from being on the field so long), but struggle with the flats against Western Carolina and practically soil themselves against N.C. State. Granted N.C. State looks to be the real deal, but there's a difference between being open and being WIDE open, and the Wolfpack had a lot of guys WIDE open at all the skill positions all day.
They'll get a chance to do that against ECU, which runs that Texas Tech Air Raid stuff all the football nerds love. Can they find a way to slow down big offenses, or at least force turnovers? That's what I want to see from them going forward.
On offense, I want to see a beefier offensive line (not gonna happen), and wide receivers and tight ends that catch the ball. Getting 'Dre back next week should help on that front, as he can help find single coverage (or zone coverage with more space) for the other guys in the pattern. Ryan's piece showed it: when you give Mike White time in the pocket, he's capable of picking a defense apart.
The problem is USF just isn't talented enough if any piece of that puzzle fails. They need the run game to be strong enough to get first downs on its own to help set up the pass. If you don't have both, you'll end up with neither. The Bulls just aren't good enough on the ground or through the air to make up for one with the other.
Also, we're WAY better on special teams than I thought. Chris Dunkley inspires fear in opponents, and Mattias Ciabatti and Marvin Kloss have been fantastic. Ciabatti looks like a Ray Guy candidate either this year or next. There's been a lot the fans have complained about this season, but not much on special teams (besides some very poorly timed penalties). Let's hope that continues.
Our problems really boil down to "overall lack of talent, too dependent on underclassmen." But we're making progress. It may be steps forward and back at times. We need to be patient and support the team.
There's surprisingly little to say. USF football is exactly where we expected to be. We won the two games we expected to, though perhaps not as decisively as we'd have liked. We didn't get a third win, but we played better than expected vs. Maryland and Wisconsin, and NC State is looking like a pretty good team. We've shown signs of improvement, but this is still a young team and it's going to do young team things. Taggart's recruits are beginning to make an impact. Pretty much right on schedule as I see it.
This season was always going to be about getting the right pieces in place for next year, and it looks like it's finally starting to happen. Mike White's had a couple good performances in a row now, and I'm really excited to see if he can have a breakout game against East Carolina, even if our D gets torched. There are a ton of young skill position players-- Marlon Mack, D'Ernest Johnson, Rodney Adams, Ryeshene Bronson-- that are only going to get better. The offensive line, which sucked for so long, did a wonderful job against Wisconsin. And the defense, as young as it is, has played out of its mind for two games in a row now.
Like we mentioned earlier, the progress isn't going to be linear and isn't going to be pretty. A lot of people are probably going to be really upset (again) if ECU beats us by more than a couple scores, but that's to be expected. We've just got to keep the ball rolling and win a few of the toss-up games down the stretch.
All this said, I'm not really expecting a miracle bowl run. But I think we're finally at the point where we can expect to compete with every team left on our schedule, save East Carolina.
Yep, I thought they looked terrible against NC State, and I didn't think they were that good, but if they turn out really good, I'm won't be sorry to be wrong.
* * * * * * *
So what say you Bulls fans: your thoughts as conference play begins?