McNeese State ruins South Florida's opener, 53-21

 TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Willie Taggart was right when he declared "the honeymoon is over" at South Florida.

   Cody Stroud threw for 207 yards and two touchdowns and little McNeese State of the Football Championship Subdivision dominated the Bulls 53-21 to ruin Taggart's debut as coach.

   "I'd like to apologize to the Bulls nation for that performance," said Taggart, who questioned the effort of some of his players, going as far as say some of them quit. "That was awful. I'm very disappointed."

   The Cowboys scored three touchdowns within a five-minute span of the second quarter to take control. It was 40-7 early in the third quarter and would have been worse if USF's Marcus Shaw hadn't broken an 80-yard run for a touchdown on the Bulls' first play from scrimmage.

   Stroud threw TD passes of 22 and 78 yards to Nic Jacobs, Dylan Long scored on runs of 1 and 7 yards and Guy Morgan returned an interception 76 yards for a TD.

   Taggart left Western Kentucky for South Florida last December and faces the task of turning around a once-rising program that fell on hard times in recent years in the Big East, which has been renamed the American Athletic Conference.

   Beginning with a loss to a FCS opponent was not a good start.

   At 37, Taggart's the second youngest coach in a BCS conference. He talked earlier in the week about how everything had been "peaches and cream" since taking the job but that he was eager to learn how his team would respond to adversity under game conditions.

   "I've been preaching from Day 1 that the thing I was concerned about is how our team is going to respond when things get tough and adversity happens, and the biggest nightmare happened," Taggart said. "That goes to show me that we're not as far as I thought we were, and we've got to get there. And we will get there. We're going to get there with the right guys."

   Bobby Eveld sparked USF's offense when he replaced Matt Floyd at quarterback after USF's starter threw two interceptions. The backup threw a 59-yard TD pass to Stephen Bravo-Brown and later finished a drive prolonged by a roughing-the-passer penalty with a 7-yarder to Andre Davis.

   McNeese State is beginning its eighth season under coach Matt Viator. With 13 Southland Conference championships and 14 FCS Subdivision playoff appearances, the Cowboys not only have a strong tradition but have had success before against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents.

   "In the short term, it's our first win over a BCS conference team. Long term, it's one of 12. We've got a game next week," Viator said. "In the short term, this is really exciting for our kids."

   The 53 points were most ever scored against South Florida at home. McNeese also has victories against three members of the Sun Belt Conference -- Louisiana-Monroe (2002), Louisiana-Lafayette (2007) and Middle Tennessee (2012) -- over the past 11 years. They're 4-12 in games against FBS schools since 2000.

   Stroud, a three-year starter, completed 12 of 21 passes and was intercepted once.

   "I think the no huddle helped us. We're not a no huddle team," Viator said. "We thought about it. We've got a senior quarterback that I thought handled it really well. We thought it could help us because we really didn't have an idea what they were going to run."

   Taggart grew up in the Tampa Bay area and made a name for himself as a player and coach at Western Kentucky. After turning around his alma mater, which had lost 20 consecutive games before he arrived three seasons ago, the former assistant to Jim Harbaugh at Stanford is embracing the challenge of helping South Florida reach its potential.

   The Bulls were ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation in 2007, but have been in steady decline ever since. After a 2-0 start a year ago, they dropped nine of 10 down the stretch under Skip Holtz before luring Taggart away from his old job with a five-year, $5.75 million contract.

   The Taggart era got off a rousing start when Shaw broke his long run on USF's first play from scrimmage, however the Bulls offense only had sporadic success the rest of the night against a defense led by former Western Kentucky defensive coordinator Lance Guidry, who led the Hilltoppers in last year's Little Caesar's Bowl after Taggart left for his new job.

   Floyd completed 9 of 20 passes for 72 yards for USF. The sophomore won the starting job in a close competition with Eveld, another holdover from last year's 3-9 season, and Penn State transfer Steven Bench.

   By the middle of the second quarter, the struggling Floyd was drawing boos from the announced crowd of 35,478. The jeers intensified when Morgan picked off a sideline throw and raced up the field to put McNeese up 33-7 before the half, and again early in the third quarter when Ryan Bronson's interception led to Long's second TD.

   Eveld was 10 of 20 for 137 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Shaw finished with 147 yards rushing on 12 attempts.

   Jacobs caught five passes

for 122 yards for McNeese. The Cowboys rushed for 180 yards and outgained USF 424 yards to 342 overall.

   "My thing was when they hit us in the mouth, which they did, how we were going to respond. And we didn't respond the way that I want our football team to respond," Taggart said.

   "We did have some guys that quit on us, and we're not going to allow that," the coach added. "Those days are over with."
 

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