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January 14, 2014

Year 1 is over - how do the Bulls improve?

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2-10, 2013 was an ugly year for the USF football program. First year head coach Willie Taggart inherited a team that had gone just 3-9 the year before and was left with a roster devoid of talent. Add in the new offensive system that Coach Taggart introduced, completely changing what the Bulls did on offense, it was a tough year for the coaching staff and the fans to watch.

Four different quarterbacks, a shuffling running back position, a bad offensive line that was undersized for the job, football in Tampa was rough as the Bulls hit rock bottom in Taggart's first year at the helm. But despite the bad offense, the defense, which had been a punching bag in 2012, rallied and had a solid season. 6 interceptions compared to just 2 total from last year, more tackles for loss, and a more aggressive style under first year coordinator Chuck Bresnahan, gave fans some hope going forward.

In this Part 1 of a two-part series, I will break down the stats for the Bulls offense and the defense, comparing 2012 to 2013 seasons and seeing where things went from bad to worse and where they improved.

Then in part two - on Thursday - I will take a little bit of time to look at Western Kentucky, how their season was before Coach Taggart was hired, his first year at the helm, and the 2nd year under his tenure, comparing it to what the Bulls fans could see in 2014 in Taggart's second year. Time to dig into the numbers.

2012 USF offense vs. 2013 USF offense

To start this segment, the changes in offense form 2012 to 2013 were huge. The Bulls went from a spread offensive system with a quick and small offensive line to a pro-style, power run system that requires big offensive linemen to block. The Bulls entered 2013 with a lot of holes as well after bad recruiting the previous three years. Gone was quarterback B.J. Daniels, running back Demetris Murray, and three receivers in Terrence Mitchell, D'vario Montgomery, and Sterling Griffin, limiting the roster for Coach Taggart and his staff that were tasked in changing the entire scheme with a roster depleted and not designed for the pro-style that Coach Taggart wanted.

Let's start with total points. USF scored 247 points in 2012 (20.6 PPG) compared to just 165 total points in 2013, a bad 13.8 PPG. With a new scheme, few playmakers and the lack of consistent quarterback play, the point drop off was expected. The difference was 82 points, roughly 11 touchdowns worth, which is a very staggering number and showed how talent was lost after the 2012 season.

While scoring points dropped off for the Bulls in 2013, moving the ball in general did as well. In 2012, USF had 251 first downs, 110 by running the ball and 115 by passing the ball (26 by penalty). In 2013, that number dropped to 154 first downs, a drop of 97 first downs. The Bulls got just 48 running the ball (down 62), 89 via passing (down 23), and 17 via penalty (down 9). Across the board, the Bulls struggled to move the ball down the field. 4 different quarterbacks, Marcus Shaw missing time at running back, and a mixture of receivers hurt the offense this season for the Bulls. Fans could see the lack of experience and depth on the front line for the Bulls and what Coach Taggart had to work with. At times it was like watching a round peg being forced into a square hole, it just didn't fit with what the Bulls had on the depth chart and the numbers prove that.

The rushing attack for the Bulls took a major step back in 2013. Without the mobility of BJ Daniels, the leading rusher last year and veteran Demetris Murray gone, the run game fell on the shoulders of seldom-used Marcus Shaw, redshirted Michael Pierre, forgotten man Willie Davis and freshmen. Add in a very poor offensive line with new shifting players that the guard positions, USF struggled to do what the the offense was designed to do, run the ball with power. In 2012, USF ran for a total of 1824 yards on 426 attempts which was good for 152 yards a game on the ground and averaged 4.3 yards per carry (had 14 rushing touchdowns as well).

In 2013, the Bulls ran for just 1064 yards yards, which is good enough for 88 yards a game and just 3 yards per rush attempt (4 touchdowns total). Over 800 yards less on the ground, 1.3 yards less per rush, and down over 70 yards per game on the ground. Now granted, Marcus Shaw, the best offensive runner the Bulls had, did miss two games with a hamstring injury, which hurts the overall yardage. But the rush offense was just bad in 2013.

What was the issue? It all started with the offensive line. Coach Skip Holtz had left an offensive group that was designed for a shot-gun style, spread offense, not relying on power but more on speed in their blocking. In Coach Taggart' system, these type of linemen just didn't work and the run game suffered.

Another major area that suffered was the passing offense for the Bulls. Behind the arm of BJ Daniels (and Bobby Eveld and Matt Floyd), the Bulls threw for 2586 yards (226/410) which was an average of 215 yards a game. The average per pass play was 6.3 yards per pass and the average per catch was 11.4 yards. The Bulls had 14 touchdowns but did throw 15 interceptions. These numbers were bad, but it got worse once Daniels graduated and the shuffling of quarterbacks in the new offensive system under first year coordinator Walt Wells took place.

The Bulls threw for just 2002 yards combined between the 4 quarterbacks (166 out of 357 attempts) which averaged out to just 166.8 yards a game. The Bulls averaged just 5.6 yards per pass attempt but did average 12.1 yards per catch. They threw a combined 7 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. The yards were down, interceptions up, and the yardage on throws was down, all signs of bad quarterback play and a new offense learning on the job.

Overall, having the new offense, players that didn't fit, and the lack of developed talent all across the board was the real issue for the offense. Yes, there was bad play calling at times, but failure to execute and run the basic sets that the coaching staff called hurt the Bulls. The Bulls have the ball on average for just 28:46 minutes a game (which was up over the 27:19 from last year) but they only converted on 28% of 3rd down conversions (48 out of 172) compared to 77 for 176 last year, 44%. It was worse in the red zone for the Bulls as they scored just 14 out 19 trips (74%) and just 7 out of the 19 (37%) were touchdowns. Compared to 30 out of 34 trips last year (88%) and 18 out of the 34 were touchdowns (53%). Execution and personnel issues were the story for the offense all year long. However, as bad as things got for the offense, there was better news for the defense as they improved greatly over the awful 2012 season.

2013 USF defense vs. 2012 USF defense

The Bulls defense was awful in 2012 under Coach Chris Cosh. Bad formations, lining up 10 yards off of receivers and bad schemes hurt a once proud unit. In 2013, under Coach Chuck Bresnahan, the Bulls got back to the basics, focusing on stopping the run, lining up at the line, and playing smart football and the numbers showed the change.

Overall, the Bulls allowed 343 points in 2013 (28.6 PPG) compared to 329 points in 2012, 27.4 PPG. While the number is slightly up, it has to be kept in mind how bad the offense was and how often the defense would be forced right back out on the field after a quick 3 and out, causing the unit to be worn down and forced to play a lot of minutes.

Overall, the Bulls allowed a total of 238 first downs in 2013, 114 via the pass, 100 via the run, and 24 on penalties. In 2012, USF allowed 264 first downs, 142 via the pass, 102 via the run, and 20 via penalty. USF allowed 26 less first downs in 2013, the biggest number was from the pass, allowing 28 less passing first downs despite having two new starting corners in the secondary and several young freshmen playing large minutes for the unit. First year secondary coach Ron Cooper made his presence known with his excellent coaching and coach Bresnahan put the players in the right positions.

The Bulls were a more stout team against the run in 2013. In 2013, opponents run for 1677 yards on 435 attempts, which was good for 3.9 yards per carry and 139.8 yards a game (16 rushing touchdowns). Compared to 2012 where opponents ran for 1799 yards (122 yard improvement in 2013) on 494 attempts, averaging 3.6 yards per carry and 149.9 yards per game (21 rushing touchdowns.). The total of touchdowns was improved by 5 less scores against them and the overall yardage per game was down by 10 yards per game. The numbers are not that staggering, but overall, they are better. Allowing less touchdowns, less yardage per game despite being on the field for over 30 minutes per game, it showed the amount of coaching and change that was introduced under the new coaching staff.

The biggest improvement came from the USF secondary that had two new corners and several freshmen playing. In 2013, USF allowed a total of 2532 passing yards (215/342) which was 211 yards per game. Opponents had 19 touchdowns but 11 interceptions. The average per pass attempt was 7.4 yards and the average per catch was 11.8 yards. In 2012, USF allowed 3023 yards (255/373) which averaged 251 yards per game. Opponents had 17 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions. Opponents had 8.1 yards per pass attempt and averaged 11.9 yards per attempt. The two biggest numbers that stand out are the total number of yards allowed per game, an improvement of nearly 40 yards and the number of interceptions, up 9 from last year. The secondary played more aggressively in 2013, attacking the football and playing up closer to the line and jamming receivers and not allowing them easy breaks down the field. The more aggressive style led to more turnovers and less yards against them.

Overall, the defense was much better in 2013 compared to 2012. In 2013, USF allowed 50 out of 154 attempts to convert on 3rd down (39%) compared to 73 out of 174 attempts (42%) in 2012. The redzone defense was also greatly improved. In 2013, USF allowed 35 out of 45 (78%) attempts to score, including 24 out of 45 for touchdowns (53%). In 2012, opponents converted on 43 out of 50 attempts (86%) and scored 29 out of 50 attempts for touchdowns (58%). The numbers are a huge change, but they are a positive change. They stopped more opposing drives and allowed fewer touchdowns, all positives for a unit that was gashed all year long in 2012.

Coming Thursday, part 2 of the series, comparing Western Kentucky the year before, the first year and the year after Willie Taggart arrived. What to Bulls fans have to look forward to?



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