At long last, Willie Taggart gave South Florida fans something to cheer about, even if it only was for one week.
The Bulls finally gave Taggart the signature win that he so desperately needed, dominating Syracuse in a 45-24 victory Saturday afternoon. It was USF’s first homecoming win since 2009 and brought an end to a three-game losing streak.
But more importantly, at least in the grand scheme of things, Taggart finally gave USF fans at least a glimmer of hope that he has the program trending in the right direction.
Taggart arrived in Tampa with a fair amount fanfare back when he was first hired in December of 2012. He was a young coach who came from the Jim Harbaugh coaching tree, and many fans were optimistic that he could steer the program back on the right track after Skip Holtz’s failed tenure.
However, the Bulls went just 6-18 in his first two seasons at the helm, leaving him squarely on the hot seat entering 2015. Taggart has done a stellar job on the recruiting trail, but the general consensus, fair or not, is that he needs to parlay that talent into a bowl-eligible team if he’s going to stick around past this year.
Though that goal is still a ways off, it seems much more attainable after South Florida’s triumph over the Orange this past weekend.
The Bulls were powered on offense by running back Marlon Mack, who ran for 184 yards and two touchdowns, both of which came in the second half, on just 20 carries. Quarterback Quinton Flowers was solid as well, throwing for 259 yards and two touchdowns on 15-of-22 passing while also running for another touchdown.
After the game, Flowers made clear how excited he and his teammates were to get Taggart the signature victory that had eluded him up to this point.
“It feels really good to get the win for Coach T,” Flowers said. “A lot of people were downing Coach T. A lot of people were saying the wrong things about Coach T, but the offense and the team always says, ‘We’ve got your back. Don’t worry about that.’ We’ve just got to stay in our cocoon. That’s all we can do.”
Taggart couldn’t contain his excitement over the win in his postgame press conference either.
“What a win. Great win,” he said. “So proud of our pups. Big step in growing up.”
Of course, the Bulls can’t rest easy now that they’ve defeated a Power Five opponent for the first time under Taggart. The team is still 2-3 and must successfully navigate its AAC schedule in order to reach bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010.
Perhaps it’s not fair at all that Taggart needs a bowl berth to stick around for a fourth year in Tampa. After all, he inherited a program left in disarray, and it was going to take time to turn things around. But in today’s college football world, fans don’t always have that much patience, so a coach needs to orchestrate quick turnarounds in order to keep their jobs in most cases.
It’s a reality that Taggart faces, and one that he recognized in the aftermath of the biggest victory of his tenure.
“It’s great to have some success,” Taggart said. “We need to have consistent success.”
A win over Syracuse doesn’t prove that USF is back on the right track under Taggart, but it sure as heck is a good place to start.