TAMPA — Inside one football game, how do you go from “Taggart Must Go!!” to nominating a true freshman for school president?
Say it long and loud, USF fans, because he saved you, at least this week.
Say it three times for good measure. No, make it four times, because, well, he did.
Marlon Mack, Marlon Mack, Marlon Mack, Marlon Mack.
For a while Saturday, what seemed like a long while, it looked as if Willie Taggart and USF would be McNeesed again in their 2014 opener.
Taggart and his Bulls, sporting spiffy gold chrome helmets if not “The Team” on their backs, were out to put a 2-10 season behind them against the FCS Western Carolina Catamounts.
Not so fast.
There is Catamount and there is catatonic.
The Bulls were the walking dead, down 14-3, then 17-16 at halftime.
But they snapped out, barely, to win, 36-31.
Marlon Mack did the snapping.
He was The Team.
The Bulls were saved from an unforgivable loss by the legs and heart of this true freshman running back from Sarasota’s Booker High, inserted in the USF backfield only because of an injury to starter Darius Tice.
“He didn’t let us down tonight,” Taggart said of Mack. “You never know when it’s your time.”
Mack had as remarkable a debut as you’ll ever see, setting school records as he went.
South Florida’s pathetic 2013 offense scored 11 touchdowns.
Marlon Mack made four in one night.
He scored on a 62-yard run in the second quarter. He had 99 yards by halftime. He broke loose for a 60-yard score to put the Bulls ahead in the third quarter. Somewhere in there, he broke the USF freshman rushing record. He kept going. He added a measly 3-yard touchdown (slacker) early in the fourth quarter. When Western Carolina closed to within 30-24 late, Mack gunned his engine again, 56 yards down the left side for TD No. 4. He tied Andre Hall’s school record with 275 yards rushing.
He did more than that.
The kid single-handedly steered his team clear of disaster.
How much of a disaster?
You could almost begin to smell Taggart’s bacon crackling in the frying pan.
USF could not lose this game. A loss would have been tantamount to an extinction-level event for this coach and this team and this season, worse than even last year, when Taggart began his USF tenure with a shocking 53-21 loss to McNeese State.
How bad could it have been?
Western Carolina had won just four games the previous three seasons, and three of those wins came over Mars Hill University (coming soon, the home-and-home with Jupiter State). When Western Carolina beat Elon last season, it snapped a 33-game losing streak against Division I opponents. Western had lost 21 straight road games going into Saturday.
That’s how bad it could have been.
USF sophomore quarterback Mike White had a terrible night, 9-for-26 passing, as did the Bulls defense, which was shredded for 454 yards, including 374 passing. Really, the Catamounts deserved to win.
Only Marlon Mack wouldn’t let them.
USF freshmen, by Taggart edict, cannot speak with media. Mack did enough talking as it was.
Saturday’s squeaker still doesn’t bode well, at all, what with all those teams not named Western Carolina right around the corner, like Maryland next week, and N.C. State after that, and eventually a trip to Wisconsin.
But they weren’t McNeesed Saturday.
That’s not saying much.
Then again, there’s a new sensation on campus.
Now he’s worth talking about.