By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA, SEPT. 2, 2014 – Head coach Willie Taggart talked all offseason about “Mr. Adversity.”
USF formed a strong bond throughout the offseason after adding the top-rated American Athletic Conference recruiting class to the mix and Taggart was anxious to see how the Bulls would do when times get tough.
Taggart didn’t have to wait long to see something very special from his team.
USF headed into the locker room trailing Western Carolina, 17-16, at halftime of last Saturday’s season opener after Marvin Kloss kicked a 26-yard field goal in the final minute to get the Bulls closer to the Catamounts.
“I saw in the locker room that everybody was calm,” said safety Jamie Byrd, who had a team-leading 11 total tackles and an interception in his USF debut. “There really wasn’t anybody yelling, nobody was mad, we just came in there smiling. We knew we were going to face adversity.”
Two quarters later the Bulls were smiling again and celebrating with fans at Raymond James Stadium after pulling out a 36-31 victory that told Taggart a lot about his team.
“I’m proud of the way they responded from a tough first half. I’m sure a lot of you all were there and felt like last year,” Taggart said to reporters at Tuesday’s weekly press conference. “It felt like that to everyone, but the sideline didn’t feel the same way as last year. It was exciting for me, encouraging for me, just knowing that we were going to get out of it just because our attitude was so much better.”
The Bulls found out they have more playmakers as well and the star that shined the brightest was true freshman running back Marlon Mack, who now leads the nation with 275 rushing yards. The Sarasota native out of Booker High School broke off touchdown runs from 62, 60, 3 and 56 yards out on the way to finishing with a school record 280 all-purpose yards.
“Not only did Marlon help our offense, he helped this entire football team the way he ran the football,” Taggart said. “That got everybody excited. That got our fans excited and I got chill bumps right now just thinking about those runs that he made.”
The Bulls will look to give their fans more exciting plays to cheer about Saturday at 3:30 p.m. when they face off against Big Ten opponent Maryland for the first time at Raymond James Stadium. The Terps started their season with a 52-7 victory over James Madison after rushing 50 times for 285 yards and five touchdowns.
“We know we can be a lot better than what we showed out there on Saturday. When you’re not at your best and you still can win a ballgame, that’s encouraging,” Taggart said. “Now we just have to continue to work really hard to straighten out some things that didn’t necessarily go well on Saturday and see to it that we put (together) a better performance. We’re going to need a better performance this Saturday.”
Kloss ‘Money’ Again for USF
Marvin Kloss (Naples, Fla.) made a name for himself last season by becoming a finalist for the Groza Award and the 2014 Groza Award watch list member picked up right where he left off in the season opener.
The American Athletic Conference Special Teams Player of the Week turned in a perfect performance by nailing field goals from 47, 33 and 26 yards out and his first two were produced in the first half when the Bulls’ offense needed a boost.
“It’s always good to have a great kicker. We call him Marvin ‘Money’ Kloss because he’s always money,” safety Nate Godwin said. “He’s always going to make that kick. Every time we put him in we don’t ever sweat, we don’t ever blink an eye, we know he’s going to kick it through.”
Kloss spoke to reporters Tuesday and was quick to credit the other two Bulls in the “operation.” New long snapper Alex Salvato did a solid job in his debut and holder Mattias Ciabatti continued to work well with Kloss as he did last season.
“Without them I wouldn’t have the success rate that I’ve been having,” Kloss said.
Kloss became the first Bull up for a major college football award last season after leading the nation with 11 field goals of 40 or more yards and four of 50-plus yards. The 2013 Athlon second-team All-American has remained level-headed throughout the whole experience and he’s determined to focus on the task at hand in 2014.
“Honestly I’m just taking it one game at a time. If I end up like I did last season with a really good percentage and some decent numbers then I’ll be a happy guy,” he said. “I’m looking to really make it towards a bowl game this year because I haven’t been to one since my true freshman year and that was quite the experience as far as I can remember.”
USF Football TV Show Debuts Thursday
USF Football: A New Era On The Bay will air Thursdays at 4 p.m. on Sun Sports and 10:30 p.m. on Bright House Sports Network. The show will re-air Fridays at 11:30 p.m. and Sundays at noon on Bright House Sports Network.
USF Football: A New Era On The Bay is shot and produced by five-time Emmy winning Mind Over Media out of Pittsburgh, Pa. The 12-episode program features inside access, including player features and a look at life as a Bull, with Taggart at the helm of the program for the second year. The show will not air during bye weeks. Take a look at the season schedule HERE.
USF football season ticket renewals are available. Members may renew their tickets today online, by calling 1-800-GoBulls, or in person at the Ticket Sales and Service Center in the Sun Dome administrative offices (Gate B).