TAMPA — After their third bye week this season – and a 16-day break since a 35-23 loss at Houston on Halloween night – the University of South Florida Bulls (2-6, 2-2 American Athletic Conference) return to action for Saturday night’s home game against the Memphis Tigers (2-6, 0-4).
The Bulls are well-rested, most notably at running back, where Marcus Shaw is 100 percent after missing two games and most of another. USF coach Willie Taggart hopes the lengthy break hasn’t made his team too rusty.
“I would like to get back out and just play,’’ Taggart said Thursday. “When you know you can play better, I think you’d really like to get out there and correct things. Bye weeks can be beneficial at times, getting healthy. But when you get some momentum and want to get things going, you want preferably play every Saturday.’’
POSITIVE VIBES: Taggart likes the talk of his players still striving to reach a bowl game, even though that would require USF sweeping its final four games.
“It shows you how much our guys care not only about our university, but for each other,’’ Taggart said. “That’s something I don’t necessarily think we had when we got here. They’re actually starting to like each other more. They know a big part of our problems throughout the year has been us.
“Now they know there’s a possibility for us to win those games, but we have to do it. The beauty of it is the seniors can go out and set a foundation for what this program is going to be for years to come, but also have a chance to go out with a bowl game.’’
YOUNG GUNS: At 37, Taggart is the fifth-youngest coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Memphis coach Justin Fuente, born one month earlier, is the sixth-youngest FBS coach.
It’s the 10th head-to-head meeting for Taggart and Fuente, dating to 1998, when they were starting quarterbacks. Fuente’s Murray State Racers defeated Taggart’s Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 36-31. Since then, Fuente (assistant at Illinois State and TCU) and Taggart (assistant at WKU and Stanford) have met on opposing staffs, but Saturday night marks their first matchup as opposing head coaches.