With the “Coaching Carousel” still spinning this week, the intriguing unification of former USF Head Coaches Willie Taggart and Jim Leavitt at Oregon has a lot of Bulls and college football fans wondering how both ended up in the Pac 12, with the Ducks, and most curiously, together.
The answer is: this partnership has been in the making, since the late 1990’s and in large part a single name brought them together: Jim Harbaugh.
You see the current Michigan coach was the former 49ers coach in the NFL, and before that, the former Stanford coach and before that, actually volunteered as his playing career was ending with his father Jack’s staff at Western Kentucky.
And going back almost 20 years is where you find the connections/bonding that led to what has happened the last couple of weeks in Eugene, Oregon. Here goes:
Willie Taggart was a fantastic option style running QB out of Bradenton, FL, who was recruited by….Jim Leavitt as the first ever head coach of the brand new USF football program when it debuted in 1997. Taggart wound up going to WKU to play and star for the elder Harbaugh.
The Hilltoppers actually (very famously for them and locally in Tampa Bay) came into Raymond James Stadium and defeated the Leavitt Bulls in 1998 with Taggart having a tremendous game.
See the connections coming together?
Eventually after his playing career, Willie Taggart wanted to get into coaching and did so with the elder Harbaugh at WKU, then he found his way onto Jim Harbaugh’s Stanford staff as running backs coach from 2007-09. Coaching and recruiting in the Pac-12 for those three years would become vital years later.
Taggart went back to his alma matter WKU as head coach in 2010, and Jim Harbaugh would eventually leave Stanford after the 2010 season to become head coach of the 49ers starting in 2011.
Leavitt meanwhile was fired controversially from USF after the 2009 season, sat out of coaching in 2010, but eventually was hired by……Jim Harbaugh, as linebackers coach in San Francisco.
Leavitt excelled with Pro Bowlers Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman, as the Niners went to three consecutive NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl. As you likely know, Harbaugh moved on the last two years to coach Michigan while Leavitt became the defensive coordinator in Colorado, again a Pac 12 school.
Picture almost in total focus?
So, with Willie Taggart having come to USF in 2013 and leading the Bulls to their most successful season ever this past year with a 10-2 record and QB Quinton Flowers being named the American Conference Offensive Player of the Year, he was in prime position to jump to a “Power Five” conference job. Like the opening they had at Oregon, for example.
We now know that one of the people calling the Ducks brass on Taggart’s behalf having seen what he did for him at Stanford and for his dad before that at WKU, was….Jim Harbaugh.
And now, with the latest revelation/hire that Leavitt will be leaving Colorado to join Taggart at Oregon, all of the intertwining connections are once again visible.
There may have been some other factors and influences that helped Oregon find their new head coach and now, his new defensive coordinator, but none were more prominent on this edition “College Coaching Match Game” than, Jim Harbaugh.
USF escapes Tulsa with dramatic 25-24 comeback win
It wasn’t pretty, and it was against another bad team, but USF pulled off a dramatic 14 point comeback Friday night in Tulsa for a thrilling 25-24 win. The Bulls had been living dangerously in their previous three games against bad opponents pulling out wins over Illinois, East Carolina and UMass in the second half of them all. Friday night it looked like they were done.
The Golden Hurricane, just 1 – 4 on the season, put together four complete quarters of solid football and two long second-half scoring drives to set the stage for the possible huge upset of the Bulls.
However, even though the Bulls struggled for much of the night to get any sustained offense or drive rolling, they eventually would get on track.
Trailing 10-3 at the half, the Bulls got on the board when their top weapon all season, running back Jordan Cronkrite ripped off a 66 yard touchdown run to even the game up at 10. That put Conkrite over a hundred yards (151) rushing for the fourth consecutive game.
However, there was no quit in Tulsa. They put together their key third quarter scoring drives and running back Shamari Brooks capped off both with 10 yard touchdown runs each time. The second Drive was an 88 yarder and it put the Golden Hurricane up 24 – 10.
Tulsa was playing with confidence that it had not shown for much of the year with four losses in five games and that included 16 turnovers, as well.
But, the Bulls finally got their offense sustained midway through the fourth quarter, when quarterback Blake Barnett led a 14 play, 82 yard drive that he capped off with a 1-yard scramble run for the touchdown. Tulsa blocked the extra point to maintain a 24 – 16 advantage.
USF was able to force a punt and then quickly marched 80 yards in 10 plays and Barnett again scrambled in from 12 yards out to cut the lead to two at 24 – 22. With only 2:09 remaining the Bulls decided to try to tie the game with a two-point conversion.
Tulsa’s defense rose to the occasion and stuffed a scrambling Barnett on the two-point play.
Still, USF just kept making plays and got three stoops of Tulsa, used two timeouts remaining and got the ball back.
That’s when the real dramatics took over.
First, USF was aided a roughing the passer personal foul with under :40 to play that gave them a first down in Tulsa territory. Then Barnett fired a bullet downfield to receiver Tyre McCants for 32 yards down to the Hurricane five yard line with :08 left.
Barnett did most of his statistical damage in the fourth quarter finishing with 237 yards passing and 24 more rushing with the two TDs.
The Bulls got to the line and calmly spiked the ball with :05 left.
Kicker Coby Weiss booted the 22 yard field goal for the win at 25-24.
The “Houdini” escape for the Bulls puts them at 6-0 for the second consecutive year and only the third time since the program became FBS in 2001.
Tulsa was bidding to beat a Top 25 team for the first time in eight years. Alas, they came up a point short and are now 0 for 15 against ranked teams since 2010.
Bulls RB Cronkrite named American Offensive Player of Week
It was a record setting Saturday in New England for USF Bulls RB Jordan Cronkrite. So, it’s no surprise that the American Athletic Conference rewarded him with their Offensive Player of Week award Monday morning.
Cronkrite set a USF (and American) single game rushing record with 302 yards, as the Bulls raced past UMass 58-42.
3⃣ hundo 😱
— USF Football (@USFFootball) October 7, 2018
The red-shirt junior from Miami repeatedly ripped off long 76 and 70 yard TD runs and ended up with a gaudy 13.1 average per carry on the overcast Saturday.
The 5’11 205 lbs. Cronkrite transferred to the Bulls from the University of Florida and sat out last season waiting for his opportunity. In a wild coincidence, the 302 rushing yards he gained Saturday is the exact total he gained in two seasons (2015-16) with the Gators in 21 games.
Further, Cronkrite now has a string of three 100 yard rushing performances going. He gained 136 yards in the win at Illinois, and then clinched the East Carolina home win with an 80 yard touchdown scamper that gave him 129 yards that day.
Cronkrite is former 3,000 yard career rusher at the 3A level for Miami’s Westminister Christian High School, and was on the 3A All State first team in his final season, 2014.
The Bulls hope to see more of Cronkrite’s explosiveness, when they host Tulsa Friday night at Raymond James Stadium on ESPN.
USF- Unbeaten but Unproven, again
The timeless wisdom of sports tells us that you can only beat the teams you play on the days you play them.
The University of South Florida football team has been scheduled to play four games. It has won all four of them. The Bulls, within that narrow and small frame of reference, have done the most they can do through four weeks of the young season.
W. W. W. W. The sheet looks clean, and the value of that achievement is real: A bowl bid will definitely be part of USF’s December or January. Florida State can’t yet count on a bowl bid. USF can. That’s pretty good.
Yet, as much as “4-0” looks pretty and inspires a certain degree of confidence — there is something to be said for winning close games — let’s not try to pretend that the 2018 Bulls are a known entity.
We are about to begin to learn where USF stands — in the AAC at large, the AAC East Division in particular, and in the state of Florida.
Style points matter in College Football Playoff conversations and in New Year’s Six bowl conversations. In terms of the bottom-line business of winning and losing, they don’t carry much significance.
No need to worry about the style points with this USF team: The Bulls might have won every game they have played, but style points have been thrown out of the apartment… if they were ever allowed in to begin with. Without a fumble recovery just when Georgia Tech was on the verge of reestablishing a two-score lead in the fourth quarter, USF might be only 3-1... and Georgia Tech is the only half-decent team USF has played so far this season.
Moreover, Georgia Tech has tumbled to the bottom of the ACC since the loss in Tampa. USF has managed to stay afloat against Illinois and East Carolina, but the failure to land decisive knockout punches earlier in the game against a pair of bad teams does not inspire confidence for the road ahead.
This should not be seen as a particularly controversial thesis, as much as it might create some pushback: South Florida doesn’t yet know what it has.
Yes, Blake Barnett — having transferred from Alabama to Arizona State to USF — is trying to find a comfort zone, as one could very reasonably expect of a two-time transfer. The fact that he has not torched Illinois or ECU, while concerning, is still understandable. If you wanted to make the case that Barnett will become an excellent quarterback as this season evolves, you could marshal a convincing contextual argument.
What is harder to argue against is the reality that USF has far less proven skill-position talent compared to last season. The 2017 Bulls had Quinton Flowers as the trigger man, D’Ernest Johnson and Darius Tice in the backfield, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling on the perimeter. Those four players are gone.
Losing merely one of them is significant. Flowers, given his skill at football’s most important position (other than left tackle), left behind an enormous void Barnett is trying to fill. It is impossible to avoid the inconvenient truth: Unless or until Barnett and his 10 teammates win a game of considerable consequence — no, Georgia Tech simply doesn’t rise to that level, given its stumbles and fumbles at the start of 2018 — this team won’t be able to rise to the 2017 standard.
The schedule does look favorable, but one-score wins over the Illini and Pirates over the past two weeks have raised questions instead of answering them.
Duke is 4-0, having won at Northwestern and Baylor... but Northwestern lost at home to Akron and Baylor could very possibly go 2-7 in the Big 12 this year.
West Virginia is 3-0, but the Mountaineers didn’t get to play North Carolina State, and their Week 1 victim, Tennessee, was undressed by Florida this past weekend.
USF is like a number of other unbeaten teams in the FBS, teams that have taken care of business to the extent that they can, but have nevertheless played opponents which have not become formidable in their own right. The record might be perfect, but the quality of the resume simply can’t be elevated.
No, it is not USF’s fault… but the limitations of a month’s achievements remain conspicuous.
It is up to the Bulls to turn a thin resume into something more substantial, but right now, there’s no convincing evidence which screams and shouts that the Bulls are as good as their record. Charlie Strong, having endured a series of hard knocks at Texas, is all too aware of how quickly this industry — and Saturday results — can change in a negative way.
South Florida — even with its high-end talent in 2017 — struggled in a number of games against inferior opposition. The Bulls played well in the game that really mattered against UCF, but the Knights, playing the season of their lives, answered them in crunch time.
This year, South Florida cannot rely on its ability to pull close games out of the fire. The Bulls have to be markedly better in the coming weeks to reach the 10-win mark this season. If they continue to play very close to the margins, they will most likely get burned. The wisdom of history tells us so.
There are no preseason games in college football, but if Illinois and East Carolina were warm-up acts — test drives before the journey into the thick of the AAC season — perhaps South Florida is ready to leave a more definitive imprint upon this season.
The Bulls better hope so. The level at which they have played through four weeks might have been good enough to go 4-0, but it is most assuredly NOT good enough to get them where they want to be in early December.
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