Ryan T. Smith, who writes for SB Nation's USF blog Voodoo Five, answered some questions about South Florida for us. We also answered some questions about NC State for him, and our hot hot takes on the Pack should be up at Voodoo Five on Thursday.
1. The Pack last played USF in 2008 and it seems like things went downhill fast for the USF program from there. What are your early thoughts on the Willie Taggart era and do you feel like the program is moving in the right direction again?
Man, that game feels like ages ago. Taggart inherited a program that was totally left for dead by Skip Holtz, and thus started the rebuilding process from day one, playing his recruits at pretty much any position he could. This, of course, led to a terrible season, but he went out and nailed the next part of the process by signing the top recruiting class in the conference. This year's team is even younger, but they do look a fair bit more talented, and the first two games have been vaguely promising. We won't know for sure if Taggart has this team going in the right direction until later in the season when we see what these young guys have got, but he's got the full support of the fanbase right now.
2. After a close win over Western Carolina and what looks like a lot of missed opportunities against Maryland, where is the fanbase at as far as expectations for this year?
I think everyone was expecting 1-1, although the way it happened-- nearly blowing it to Western Carolina and nearly beating Maryland-- was a little unexpected. Still, most fans believe this team is capable of competing with most of the teams in the AAC, if only because the AAC is pretty terrible. These next two games against NC State and UConn will be huge in establishing expectations for the rest of the season. If the Bulls find a way to win both, they could wind up sneaking into a bowl. If they lose both... they may not win many more games this year.
3. Mike White started the first game, then Steven Bench played most of the Maryland game. So that seems like a situation in flux at quarterback? Do you have any sense of who we'll see on Saturday and what to expect out of that position?
The quarterback situation is a total black hole right now. White was named the starter and looked extremely uninspiring against Western Carolina-- which is not a good sentence to type about a quarterback-- but still started the Maryland game before leaving with an arm injury on the first play. Bench played the rest of the game, and I suppose he wasn't awful, but he was certainly no better than White. Taggart has been very, very adamant about not shuffling quarterbacks and insists that the pecking order is still White first, then Bench... but White's status is still up in the air for Saturday. Meanwhile, Bulls fans have been clamoring for uber-talented true freshman Quinton Flowers, but we've been given no indication that he'll see the field this week.
4. The USF defense has nine takeaways and is in the top 10 in turnover margin nationally after two games. Obviously all coaches want to create turnovers, but is there something that USF has been doing differently that's leading to all these takeaways?
There's obviously quite a bit of luck in creating turnovers, but the Bulls' defense definitely puts an emphasis on creating big plays, if only because the offense has been so wretched lately that it's their only way of putting up points. It's certainly an aggressive, athletic defense, but they're also very young and as such are usually due for a lapse or two per game.
5. Outside of a steady dose of Marlon Mack, what do you expect out of the USF offense?
Even more Marlon Mack? The offense has really had very few options outside of Mack in the first two games, especially since wideout Andre Davis, who is on track to shatter every USF receiving record there is, went down with an injury in the first game and is questionable for Saturday. I did like the job that Taggart and company did to try to get Bench comfortable against Maryland, though: the Terps stacked the box early and often, so the Bulls countered by passing on standard downs and rolling Bench out of the pocket to avoid the rush. It worked, sort of, so I'd expect to see a similar strategy against the Wolfpack. As far as individual players go, the Bulls have a nice pair of tight ends in Mike McFarland and Sean Price that are usually on the field every snap and can create matchup problems in the passing game.
6. Prediction for Saturday?
I think NC State is probably playing a little better and is certainly more experienced than USF at this point in the season, but I'm gonna hold out hope that the Bulls find a way to win this one, if only because they're at home and I really think a win here could give them a huge boost going into AAC play. I'll take USF by something like 20-17, but I agree that this more or less looks like a toss up.