Willie Taggert's bunch really struggled in his first year at the helm. The Bulls weren't particularly good at anything offensively, they finished last or second from last in the AAC in every major offensive category a year ago. It was an offense that was trying to build an identity as tends to happen with most first year coaches.
The problem is that everyone knew beforehand what Taggart and Co. wanted that identity to be. Like every coach on the Harbaugh tree the emphasis is on controlling the line of scrimmage (and the clock) with the running game, while hitting timely play action passes in the right situations.
In 2013 they couldn't even get into the right situations for the passing game to be effective because the running game was such a profound struggle. The Bulls were 7th in the AAC in rushing yards per game and per rush. They ended the season dead last nationally in rushing touchdowns last season.* In rushing S&P+ they were 110th. Thats a whole lot of numbers, with one simple conclusion, the Bulls couldn't run the ball with any effectiveness.
Because they couldn't run the ball they couldn't pass it very well at all either. It was never an offense designed for the quarterback to sit in the pocket and make quick accurate decisions in the three step and the five step game, but thats what they did and it didn't work. Poor Mike White never even had a chance.
This year the offense should be better (it couldn't possibly get worse could it). One of the biggest reason's for optimism from the Bulls sideline has to be the emergence of Marlon Mack at running back. It is hard not to get carried away after a single game, but Mack looks like the kind of difference maker the Bulls haven't really had since B.J. Daniels was in town. He looked sensational in his debut against Western Carolina*
* I know its just Western Carolina, but still
Thats the good news, the bad news is that the quarterback position is still a mess. Mike White completed 35 percent of his passes in leading the Bulls into an early hole against a WCU team that hasn't won a road game since 2010. Its not like White is without options at the receiver spots either. Andre Davis is pretty great, Chris Dunkley is a supremely talented if underwhelming performer, Deonte Welch is perfectly fine as a third receiver. Sean Price is a weapon at tight end. But all those guys can't help Mike White become a competent quarterback, and they will never be able to bring them to bear unless White becomes at the very least a solid passer. He was not Saturday, thats part of the reason why the Bulls were at one point trailing 17-3 to WCU. Mack saved them on Saturday night, but it is going to ask a lot of the freshman to do that week in week out.
Ask that they will because the Bulls defense is troublingly bad this year. They just gave up 450 yards of offense to an FCS team, mind you an FCS team that ranked 69th in total offense a year ago. So its not like they got shredded by Eastern Washington or anything. The Catamounts were thoroughly average a year ago, and they shredded the Bulls. That's the troubling thing.
Its not like the Bulls don't have talent on the defensive side of the ball. Derek Calloway and Todd Chandler were heavily recruited coming out of high school. Elkino Watson has been the most consistent defensive linemen for a couple seasons now. Their linebackers are for the most part young, but talented. Nigel Harris held down the weakside as a true freshman a year ago, Reshard Cliett is moving into a full time starters roll after being the key backer of the bench. That front seven should be good, or at least better this year.
The flip side of that is that I think the Bulls secondary performed more or less to expectations on Saturday. I like Kenneth Durden and Nate Goodwin was a fine player last year, but they did not look good against a middling (by FCS standards) offense. They need to get better, but I have no idea how they do that this year. They have a lot of young talent on the team because the Bulls have recruited really well, but thats not much help this year.
That is really the issue with Taggart, he has recruited very well since taking the job, and some of those guys, like Mack, are coming through and having an impact this year. But the majority will need a couple more seasons to have an impact. But another two years like last year and who knows if Taggart makes it there? He should because he was handed a bad situation, but coaching is a weird business in 2014.