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November 1, 2013

Houston: Five things we learned

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Publisher's note: - Matt Staton has been promoted to Senior Writer of Runningthebulls.com. Staton brings a passion and personal perspective to the website and we're proud to have him as a part of our team. Congrats Matt!

- Steve Berrey - Publisher

The USF Bulls lost their second straight game in AAC, falling 35-23 to Houston on Thursday night.

There were a lot of penalties, including one that killed a possibly game tying score for the Bulls, but there were some positives. Mike White proved he could get the job done, Andre Davis made some nice catches, and Marvin Kloss continues to impress (13 straight field goals, program record). Here are some of the things I saw from the game and what they mean for the team going forward.

Mike White can play

26 for 41 (63%) for 311 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. Those were the stats from the true freshman making his collegiate debut last night on national TV. White proved to everyone last night that he can run this offense and can throw the ball with accuracy to receivers. White had a few mistakes last night, but it was expected. What wasn't expected was how good he got as the game went along. Coach Taggart mentioned that White had a little "swagger" to him and it was on display. On each drive, White continued to throw the ball well, stepping up in the collapsing pocket, and making smart decisions with the ball against a defense that came after him a lot last night.

Going forward, White is the man. He proved he can get the job done and now the coaches have seen in live on the field. The Bulls have two weeks before Memphis comes to town on the 16th. This will give White a chance to get more reps, get more comfortable with leading the team, and hopefully give the Bulls a win on the home field.

Penalties killed us

19 for 170 yards, that won't win a lot of football games, especially for at team that has been struggling all year long. Penalties continued to beat the Bulls up, halting drives, killing momentum, and making life harder for the freshman quarterback.

There were holding calls (getting to that shortly), delay of games, but one of the biggest calls was the pass interference call on Andre Davis late in the game as the Bulls had a chance to possibly take the lead if they could score a touchdown. Was it a bad call? Yes, it was, but at the end of the day, it was the calling card for the team down the stretch.

There were just too many sloppy plays that led to the yellow flags being throw and a few more grey hairs in Coach Taggart's beard. This is something the coaching staff will be stressing in the off week, they can't continue to hurt themselves and give away yards if they want to win another game this year.

Offensive line is bad

Time after time last night, and throughout the season, the offensive line failed to pass protect and couldn't open up the running game. On paper, the Bulls out-sized the Cougars in the trenches and had star running back Marcus Shaw returning, but they failed to get the run game going and forced White to move all over the pocket to keep his jersey clean.

White was sacked 3 times (1 was a bad decision on his behalf). The Bulls managed just 53 yards on 34 carries, totaling an awful 1.3 yards per run. Whether it was straight dive plays up the middle or stretch plays to the sidelines, the offensive line just got beaten, and beaten badly.

Quinterrius Eatmon, who has continued to struggle this year, was one of the main culprits up front. Time after time, he was just flat beaten on the edge by a single pass rusher. He couldn't move his feet fast enough and hardly got a hand on the pass rusher at times, forcing White to move up and around the pocket.

There aren't a lot of good answers for this issue, especially with the youth behind the starters, but they have to do a better job. The Bulls offense relies on that front five and so far, they aren't doing enough.

Defense becoming a liability

There isn't a spot on the stat sheet to show all the missed tackles the Bulls had last night, but they may add it after that performance. Time after time, the Bulls had the Cougars in 3rd down situations, but short passes and missed tackles led to extended drives and kept the offense on the sidelines.

Key players like Dede Lattimore, Mark Joyce, and Brandon Salinas missed tackles that led to scores (Salinas had a chance at a tackle, missed, and receiver ran it in).

The lack of tackling, exposed gaps, and failure to get off the field are trends that are becoming too often for the defense. They are still get turnovers, like the forced fumble from Joyce to stop a Houston score (Johnny Ward recovered it), but they are giving up too many yards and allowing teams to just grind down the field on the way to points.

Some of the blame can be pointed at Coach Bresnahan, although he made several adjustments late in the game that helped stop the quick passes from Houston. But a majority of the blame falls on the players and they showed it last night after they made mistakes. Dede Lattimore and Mark Joyce could be seen yelling at themselves and firing up their teammates, owning up to their mistakes on the field (shows leadership). USF will have to figure out how to tackle if they want to get off the field more often.

Outlook for the rest of the year

A losing season is pretty much sealed (3rd straight season of losing) and a bowl game is not a distant memory, but there is still a lot of football left and a lot to watch for.

The team may have found their quarterback for the next few years in Mike White. The freshmen are becoming regulars now in either starting or back-up rolls and we are beginning to see what the team could look like in 2014.

It is hard to take moral victories after losing a tough game like the Houston game and dealing with blowouts like Miami and Louisville were, but the team is slowly progressing. There are holes in a lot of places, but Coach Taggart is working his way to fix the issues.



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