Friday, 4 a.m.
Through the eyes of Willie Taggart, Oregon Duck, it probably looked familiar.
Through the eyes of T.J. Weist, Bull for a day, it probably looked promising.
Through the eyes of Quinton Flowers, MVP for the game, it probably looked good at the end.
Ah, but how did it look to Charlie Strong? Did it look as promising as the offense? Did it look as shaky as the defense? Did it look as fragile as the fourth quarter? Did it look as convincing as overtime? Did it look as shiny as 11-2?
After all, that's what really matters, isn't it?
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Bowl games are funny things. They are pieces of two seasons, a post-season comment on the season just completed, a precursor to the season to come. And so it was easy to look at USF's 46-39 overtime win over South Carolina as a little bit Willie, a little bit Charlie. Part of this bowl game was about the era that just ended. Part of it was about the season to come.
And so the Bulls did their usual number on Thursday. They had a great offense, and they had a defense that spent a lot of time chasing opponents. Oh, the Bulls came up with the big defensive play at the end — as they did a few times this season — but I think it's safe to suggest that one of the things Strong wrote on his pad, over and over, is that the Bulls had to improve their defense.
That defense had a way of making most opponents look good. Oh, in every game but Temple, the Bulls' offense was usually good enough to win despite the defense. But Strong has to know that being ranked 120th in the country is about 90 slots too low. A team can't make a handful of defensive plays a game and survive.
Remember, this was South Carolina, which has been lousy on offense all year. They're 118th in the country. And they ran up 481 yards against the Bulls. They almost overcame five turnovers and an 18-point deficit.
What else did Strong see? Well, he saw a quarterback who will be either first or second of those he has coached. Maybe you can talk about Teddy Bridgewater, who was sensational when he played for Strong at Louisville. But Bridgewater was a different quarterback. Bridgewater had all of 78 yards rushing his final season with the Cards; Flowers had 1,530.
Strong, a defensive coach for most of his career, is going to want more big plays made from the Bulls' defense. Oh, it had a pick six and another interception, and it recovered three fumbles in the red zone, and it had a huge sack on the last play of the game. But that defense also gave up 390 yards passing to Jake Bentley. Worst of all, it did not close the door in the fourth period.
Strong will make changes. That's unavoidable. He will certainly want more balance to his team. There is no reason that the Bulls should not have a great offense next season. But he's going to want to see less gaps in pass coverage, and better tackling, and a more consistent pass rush.
And how about interim coach T.J. Weist. For the sake of consistency, I'd love to see Weist return. He could help greatly in the transition. But I don't know if there is an offensive mind that Strong loves. And any head coach should get to pick the guys in the foxhole with him.
Still, Strong could do worse.
What else did Strong see? Like any new coach, he probably saw areas of his team where he thinks he needs better athletes. Defensive tackles. Corners. Outside linebackers. Young offensive linemen. And so forth.
It's interesting. In some ways, Strong has inherited a different kind of pressure. At Texas, there were still fans who expected Tommy Nobis to come back onto the field. At USF, the season to live up to is the one just completed. Fans – rightfully so — are going to expect the team to make a push toward the conference title.
Funny, but these days, any drive on which the Bulls don't score is a disappointment. The expectations of fans is so high. Fans expect 40. Every game is a pinball contest.
But defensively? Well, the Bulls give up a lot on that side of the ball, too.
How does Strong keep one and fix the other? Can he recruit well and hire good assistants. Can he take an exciting half a team and make it whole?
Through Strong's eyes, that's the challenge.
Um, if he could fix things in a hurry, we'd appreciate it.