TAMPA — The other day, after a particularly pleasing spring practice session, University of South Florida football coach Willie Taggart made some telling statements.
“We look like a Division I football program,'' Taggart said. “We look like a football team.''
Last season, when the Bulls were 2-10 and scored a national-low 11 offensive touchdowns, there were times when that could be questioned.
No more, according to Taggart.
When Taggart puts his Bulls on display during today's USF spring game at the on-campus Corbett Stadium, he expects crisp execution, correct understanding of assignments and plenty of talented options.
“Everybody is able to play now on both sides of the ball,'' Bulls wide receiver Andre Davis said.
“It's like night and day,'' Bulls defensive tackle Todd Chandler said. “You definitely get the feeling that we're moving in a positive direction.''
Last season, as Taggart entered his first year at USF, there was positive talk and spirited practices, but it rarely carried over to the field on game day.
“I think we're a lot further than we were last year at this time,'' Taggart said. “The guys now understand what they're doing.
“Last year, we practiced well and felt good going into games, but when we got out there, we didn't play as well. It was like stage shock. You get in front of people and don't play as well. I'm excited for our guys to see if they can do it in front of people.''
USF's spring game, originally scheduled for Raymond James Stadium, was moved to the on-campus venue by Taggart and new athletic director Mark Harlan, who hope to create an intimate, enthusiastic atmosphere. Perhaps it might give a hint of enthusiasm for an on-campus football stadium, an issue that has raised Harlan's curiosity, but hasn't been fully explored.
“It will be great knowing the fans and students can come over and watch us play,'' Davis said. “I think it's going to be a lot of fun.''
For Taggart, the most fun will be watching work from the 15 spring practices and today's spring game seamlessly translate into training camp. USF likely won't be picked to do much during its second season in the American Athletic Conference, but the players are determined to surprise everyone.
Taggart believes he has seen evidence of vast improvement.
“We're making football plays,'' Taggart said. “I was telling our offensive linemen, 'You guys look like an offensive line. Last year, you looked like me. Now, you're big and sloppy and nasty.' I like that. And I see it in their play.
“We're just acting with a lot of confidence and not making a lot of excuses. That's something we dealt with so much last year. Even the guys who made (excuses) last year are not making them now. Everybody understands their jobs and everybody wants to play. That makes for a good situation.''
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