At the beginning of the denouement of Breaking Bad's final season, "Ozymandias" (note: if you have yet to watch the show and are planning on it at some point, stop reading this now and go watch it. It'll be more fun.), there's a flashback where Walt and Jesse are in the middle of the desert engineering their first ever cook in the RV, and everything is going just swell. Then gradually, the RV fades, Jesse fades, and Walt fades, and the camera pans over the current-day desert, littered with blood and corpses and people who want to kill both of them. Walt survives the ordeal, barely, but is left stranded in the desert with a barrel of money and begins to roll it, slowly and without a hint of pride, toward humanity.
This is how it felt watching USF play NC State. Six years ago, USF demolished the Wolfpack 41-10 to move into the Top 10, and Raymond James Stadium was regularly packing over 50,000 people. With every touchdown the Bulls allowed on Saturday, it seemed like one more vestige of that unattainable past was disappearing. That Top 10 ranking? Long since faded. The game? A 49-17 beating. The attendance? A hair over 17,000.
I say this is how it felt, because as bad as that loss was, the reality differs wildly from the knee-jerk emotional response. This was not the worst loss in USF history. It was a terrible, terrible game that completely squandered any and all momentum from the Bulls' tough-fought loss against Maryland, but just like the game before it, it will mean absolutely nothing if the Bulls come out a different team in their next contest.
Still, there's no denying some of the things we saw: this could be a legendarily bad USF defense if they don't get things turned around quickly (to be fair, there is certainly reason to believe they could turn things around quickly-- most of the unit is still very young, and they are breaking in a new scheme). They've struggled mightily in two of three games now, and may have struggled mightily in all of them if not for Maryland's six turnovers last week. This wouldn't be nearly as big of an issue if the offense could score at a reasonable rate, but they can't. The biggest problem there appears not to be quarterback, as many of us predicted, but the offensive line that regularly gave Mike White less than a two-Mississippi count in the pocket. There are a lot of people to blame for what happened Saturday, but White isn't one of them.
Take a step back, and this season isn't going in any direction that we couldn't have predicted beforehand. I think most people had the Bulls at 1-2 at this point, but the odd ebb-and-flow of the season thus far has left a bad taste in everyone's mouth, and rightly so. Still, stay the course. There's a golden opportunity for the Bulls to right the ship against UConn on Friday. Any and all illusions that this could be turned around quickly have vanished, but we've still got one barrel and a whole lot of desert to cross. Might as well start rolling.
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I have no desire to watch this game ever again, so instead of the usual observations, here are some sentiments I've heard floating around the fanbase over last couple days and how justified they are.
"This was unacceptable." Yes, it was. NC State clearly had a lot more talent on the field than USF did, but the Wolfpack went 3-9 last season and are in the middle of a rebuild themselves. No one is expecting miracles from Taggart, but should be able to expect a baseline level of competency until he turns over the roster. We didn't get that on Saturday, and we should be upset.
"This is why people don't show up for games." I mean, sure. USF fans have made it very clear that they will attend games en masse when the team is doing well, and will not when the team is not doing well. They'll come back when the ship gets turned around, and the fact that this administration realizes the problem and is trying to do something about it is very comforting. But please, please don't use this game as an excuse to stop going to the stadium. Attending football games is fun. In three months, we're all gonna wish we could do it again.
"Quinton Flowers should've played more." I think everyone agrees with this point, but it's the way they used him Saturday that bothered me. His two first-quarter runs occurred on the first possession after Mike White's beautiful 75-yard touchdown pass to Ryeshene Bronson, which basically gave White one throw to try to pick up the first down and hold the NC State offense at bay. He didn't, and the floodgates opened. Also, with the way the offensive line was playing, why throw him to the lions in the second half? That's just an awful situation for a promising true freshman quarterback to be taking his first snaps. The results were predictably ugly, but hopefully Flowers can keep his head up, because we'll likely need more of him very soon.
"We should fire Taggart." Don't be silly. The jury is out on Taggart until at least the end of this season, when we should know much more about the young players he's recruited to this team. We're building from the ground up here, and when you're building from the ground up, the structure occasionally falls over and squashes one of the construction workers. It's unfortunate, but you move on.
"We should hire Jim Leavitt again." Noooooooooooope. And this is why.