The Bulls needed a strong showing on Friday to wash away the taste of getting absolutely walloped by NC State, and depending on your general outlook on life, they either succeeded entirely or were just a hair less terrible than UConn. Regardless, a win is a win, and 2-2 with a shiny 1-0 mark in the AAC is not such an awful place to be, especially given where this program was at this point last season.
But still, a bone to pick: the #HOTTAKES from this game have been really black and white, as if people can't comprehend the fact that yeah, these were two not-very-good teams playing each other, but this win was still going to mean everything to the team that got it. And yeah, Willie Taggart played it awfully close to the vest at times, but why wouldn't he? It became pretty clear after a quarter that UConn genuinely stood a better chance at scoring if the Bulls were on offense rather than vice versa (that interception... yikes), so playing keep away and sitting on the ball in the second half really wasn't as offensive as it might have otherwise been, even if it brought out some of that long-buried Skip Holtz bile in our throats. This was a weird game that required a weird strategy, and on Friday night, the weirder team won.
Yes, this was a brutally ugly game, but it was a brutally ugly game that the Bulls flat-out dominated for 59 minutes. Before that last prevent defense-poisoned drive, USF had produced over four times the yardage UConn had. Don't apologize for ruining anyone's Friday night with unsavory football, because A) it's really their own fault if they actively chose to watch USF-UConn on a Friday night, and B) it didn't matter how USF won this game as long as they won it. Willie Taggart understood that, and thus emerged from The Tempest with a sloppy, disgusting victory*.
On the topic of the weather... I didn't want to say this before the game after I got burned so badly with my NC State prediction, but a total monsoon is pretty much the perfect condition for USF to play in. The rain pretty much neutralized the passing game, which is something USF is both bad at executing and defending, and made forcing turnovers and establishing field position very important. Those are really the only two things that USF has been good at, and they were unsurprisingly both keys to the win.
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Stray observations from Hurricane Punts:
- I will probably be reiterating this for years, and I'm not even a UConn fan: I've never been more baffled by a coach's play calling than Bob Diaco's absolute refusal to throw the ball until the final drive. I know that Chandler Whitmer is not the model of fine quarterback play and that the conditions were awful, but that's no excuse for going completely, 100% one-dimensional. I mean, the Huskies were even regularly running the ball on third and longs, and as a result the Bulls were able to sell out against the run and pretty much just sit on the ball after going up 14-0.
- Round of applause for Mike White, who rebounded nicely from the disaster against NC State to have one of his best games as a Bull. The stats won't show it because of all the drops and the fact that he was handcuffed for most of the game, but almost every one of White's throws hit his target in the numbers, and a lot of them came on key third and fourth down plays. If he keeps up this level of play, the Bulls can win some more games.
- Marlon Mack was a total workhorse. His performance against the Huskies may have been just as impressive as his coming out party against Western Carolina, if only because the Bulls absolutely needed to wear down the Huskies' defense on the ground in this game. Equally important is the emergence of D'Ernest Johnson and Darius Tice as viable ball-carrying options, because Mack can't take 30 touches every week for four years. The more backs that can share the load, the better.
- I'm still not sold on this offensive line-- let's see how they look against Wisconsin-- but they did a really nice job in pass protection for White, who's shown that he can be an effective passer if he's given enough time. Perhaps Thor Jozwiak means more to this group than we anticipated.
- Rodney Adams had a couple bad drops, but his emergence as a legitimate weapon for Mike White has been an underrated development in this young season. If Andre Davis comes back healthy-- and I really, really hope he does, not only for this offense but for his legacy in the USF record books-- he and Adams will be a dangerous one-two punch at receiver, something the Bulls haven't had for quite some time.
- It's quite possible that Mattias Ciabatti had the best game I've ever seen a punter have, given the awful conditions and the importance of field position in this game.
- The sledding doesn't get any easier for USF from this point forward. This week's trip to Wisconsin is a fun, nothing-to-lose scenario, but the chances of pulling out a win there-- or at home the next week against a red-hot East Carolina squad-- are slim. They do offer two opportunities for a young team to continue to improve. Hopefully they will, because there are wins to be had for a decent team in the latter half of the schedule. But USF hasn't quite hit decent yet.
- USF has now won three straight games against UConn, all by a touchdown or less. How's that for flipping the script?
* This is not an insult. Lots of great things are sloppy and disgusting. A husky that's been out in the rain too long, for instance.