USF rallies, wins opener

After a 2-10 season, South Florida opens the 2014 schedule with a comeback victory.

NCAA Football: South Florida at Rutgers

Quarterback Mike White throws a pass in last season’s victory over Rutgers. He had similar results in the 2014 season opener over Western Carolina. (Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports)

(C+P) — The South Florida Bulls opened the 2014 season with a 36-31 victory at home over Western Carolina on Saturday. In layman’s terms, that’s nothing to text Condoleezza Rice about. But coming off a 2-10 season, it’s a coveted “W” that Bulls fans will gladly tuck away in their back pockets.

Rallying from a 14-3 deficit to take a 23-17 lead late in the third quarter, and then holding onto it, the Bulls raised the curtain on the winning side. Those are the baby steps that have South Florida fans buzzing as the Bulls prepare to host Big 10 newcomer Maryland (3:30 p.m. Saturday at Raymond James Stadium), looking to equal last season’s win total.

So what did we learn from the first game of the second season under head coach Willie Taggart?

First and foremost, the South Florida faithful found out it has a home run threat at running back. True freshman Marlon Mack, from Sarasota Booker High School, tied single-game school records for yards rushing (275) and rushing touchdowns (four) and set the school for all-purpose yards (280).

Head coach Willie Taggart calls a play in a game last season. He called the right plays in the Bulls' season-opening victory over Western Carolina. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
Head coach Willie Taggart calls a play in a game last season. He called the right plays in the Bulls’ season-opening victory over Western Carolina. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

His rushing total is also an American Athletic Conference record.

Mack ripped off touchdown runs of 62, 60 and 56 yards while leading an offense that totaled 485 yards, the most for USF since a 552-yard barrage on Syracuse in 2012. For his efforts, Mack was named College Football Performance Awards national running back of the week.

All of this behind an offensive line that, while improved, still has a ways to go. It kept the feet of sophomore quarterback Mike White on the move in pass protection. White did manage to scamper for a career-long 17-yard run, but struggled throwing the football (9 of 26 for 181 yards).

Was anything learned from the new 3-4 defense that yielded 374 passing yards? Catamounts quarterback Troy Mitchell completed 46 of 66 passing attempts without an interception.

On the plus side, South Florida’s defense did limit WCU to just 19 yards rushing in the second half. Jamie Byrd led the Bulls with 11 tackles. Wearing down an inferior opponent, by definition, is a positive. The Catamounts, an FCS team, went 2-10 last season.

It is said that the biggest improvement in a football team happens between the first and second week of the season. Taggart must bring that to fruition if the Bulls hope to begin a win streak against a Maryland team that opened its season with a 52-7 victory over James Madison.

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