I remember watching a Fall practice in 2014 and seeing Quinton Flowers do a Quinton Flowers thing. He broke the pocket, made two guys miss, and dove into the right side of the end zone for a 30+ yard TD. It was a “whoa” moment, and we could see what Willie Taggart saw in the player everyone else in college football wanted in the secondary, but no one else wanted as a quarterback.
We asked Taggart about it afterwards, and he was so excited about his new player he almost couldn’t get the words out. “He’s special.” He repeated it. But we still didn’t think he’d play that season with Mike White and Steven Bench in front of him. It turns out we wish he hadn’t, because can you imagine having Quinton Flowers in 2018? I’d take that over the limited experienced he gained playing the back half of a 4-8 season.
But I still didn’t want him as a quarterback in the Spring of 2015. Because to that point we had seen no adjustments from the West Coast Offense Taggart brought with him. Taggart famously said in his opening press conference “we’re going to run the football.”
And after 24 games, it seems about zero changes to that philosophy were made. Pour one out for Marcus Shaw losing two yards behind a pulling guard running “Power” over and over.
And then, all at once, it flipped. USF completed the third-largest in-season turnaround of the BCS era. The Bulls embraced Florida speed, and got religion from the Church of Spread in a hurry. They’re 20-4 since, with three of those losses to teams ranked at the end of the season.
Here’s Willie Taggart quote from just before the Miami Beach Bowl in 2015 on how they figured out how to put Flowers in position to win.
"He's just confident in what he's doing. You know, as a freshman, he didn't know. Our playbook was a little difficult for him. So we simplified some things, and tailored our offense around him and his ability. It's paid off big time for us, and now what we're all seeing is he's comfortable. You know, some of the things we're doing, he did in high school. That's helping us grow. 'Quinton, gimme some of the plays. Show me some of the plays you ran in high school.' 'I like that, let's run it.' You know he's comfortable running some of those things now, but it helped our entire football team because when he's playing well and confident, everyone else plays well and confident."
At another point that year, Taggart told us he basically asked Quinton “what are your favorite eight plays?” They ran them more. They went to Baylor as a staff to learn, and implemented parts of that high-octane offense. They made massive adjustments, but the biggest one of all wasn’t from the film, but to the philosphy: you have to scheme to the talent you have, not ask your talent to adjust to your desired scheme.
It got Taggart & his assistants a lot more money at Oregon, and left USF in a much better place than they inherited. No one can question Taggart’s recruiting chops, and when he decided to build around that talent, he went 11-2 and got the Bulls ranked at the end of the season for the first time ever.
It’s two games into a 12-game regular season, and USF has played two teams to whom they are far superior. But subtracting five straight touchdown drives at San Jose State, they haven’t clicked like they did last year. They look out of sorts. And they’ve lost their explosiveness, which is partially attributable to the loss of Marlon Mack and Rodney Adams. But they are so deep at so many positions... is that really it?
Flowers is now a Heisman candidate, but his numbers through two “cupcake” opponents are pretty pedestrian in the modern era of college football: 30/55, 398 yards, 4 TD’s, 1 INT, 36 carries, 137 yards rushing, 1 rushing TD.
So where did the magic go?
Q is never going to make stick throws on outs to the wide side of the field. He’s not going to stand in the pocket and deliver perfect balls. What he can do is force a defense to cover him as a runner, and use that match-up to let the playmakers around him find softer coverage. He can make brilliance out of the busted, because outside of Lamar Jackson there might not be anyone else in college football you’d want when the play breaks down.
He can lead one of the most formidable offenses in the game, as he did last season, but not if you want him be Dan Marino. He’s needs moving pockets, quick throws, and the space to be himself. A bunch of defenders clogging the box isn’t helpful to his skill set. He needs that linebacker left on an island or as a spy petrified to come after him, because no one wants to watch their ankles being broken over and over in the film room all week.
Which brings us to what the rest of the USF offense is doing presently. Why is Mitchell Wilcox acting as a fullback hybrid? That just drags another defender into the box, instead of forcing them to cover space.
Why isn’t USF putting playmakers on the edges? To be fair Rodney Adams and Marlon Mack aren’t here anymore, two huge breakaway threats in space. But D’Ernest Johnson, Darius Tice, and Trevon Sands can catch it and make people miss, and that’s before guys like Temi Alaka or Deangelo Antoine end up with the ball in go situations.
USF played a team they were much better than last week because of all the playmakers at the skill positions. Stony Brook played a ton of bend-but-don’t-break, lots of it Cover 2 shell. That’s not what you want to be running Four Verticals against, but at some point you say screw it and try to impose your will. Spread ‘em out, stems for everyone, have Tice or Johnson chip and slip to the flat as the safety valve, and send Wilcox or Dillon over the middle to split the safeties. Force them to choose who they want to cover. Then throw it high to whomever is one-on-one.
When you attack downfield so much they finally back that seventh defender out of the box, take your six (5 OL’s and an RB) against their six, leave one of them unblocked and read him so he can’t be right no matter what he does, and bust a run for huge yardage. If they dive hard at you, run-pass option their asses into the ground.
Your offensive line might not be great, so help them out: lots of screens to keep defenders in lanes, as well as to utilize the outstanding blocking wide receivers you have.
That’s what USF Football, with the athletes they recruit, should be. You don't line 'em up and punch them in the mouth: you get wide and fly by 'em.
It's only Week 2, and it's not time to panic. But we all know what USF can be because we saw it last year. It was breathtaking, and made Bulls fans from all over believe in their team again.
But the guy driving that train needs to be put in position to win. He needs a system that’s not conventional, but can be as effective as it is beautiful. He needs to be trusted, because he’s shown he can do it. He’s earned the right to be unleashed for his senior year.
Let. Him. Cook.