By Joey Knight, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- The forthcoming defensive changes to which Bulls coach Willie Taggart has vaguely alluded could involve the game-night vantage point of Raymond Woodie.
The beleaguered Bulls first-year coordinator, who has spent the first eight games in the coaches box, said Wednesday it remains a "game-time decision" as to where he'll spend Friday night's contest against No. 22 Navy.
"Right now I think we've got a good plan, but if I need to come down (on the sideline) I'll come down," said Woodie, whose team will try to rally from last Friday's woeful effort in a 46-30 loss at Temple.
"But I think the kids so far, they're excited for this challenge, so we're gonna make some adjustments where needed and whatever it takes. We're gonna do whatever it takes to go out here and perform well."
Immediately after that loss, in which Temple totaled 528 yards and possessed the ball more than 39 minutes, Taggart harped on the failure of his staff to "put guys in the position to make the plays." He later pointed to the Bulls' collective lack of energy, failure to fill gaps and improper tackling angles.
On Wednesday, Woodie said those shortcomings fall on him.
"I'm the DC and we've got to have guys make plays, and once we put 'em in position, we've got to have everybody running and...making plays to fit what we do," he said.
"And that's what we're gonna do. We've been excited all week just challenging those guys, when you put 'em in position, to make the big play. And we tell 'em all the time, 'That's your play. If you're in position, you do your job, you make the play.'"
MACK MOVING UP: Junior TB Marlon Mack has a chance to climb two spots -- to 12th place -- on the state's career rushing yardage chart, and the Bulls will need every rung he can scale against Navy.
The Midshipmen, who run a 3-4 alignment, generally play their defensive backs well off the ball -- in read-and-react mode -- to prevent the deep pass.
"They like to play back and see what you're gonna do and then react and make plays off of that," Bulls co-offensive coordinator T.J. Weist said. "The bottom line is, you have to run the football. If we don't run hard and run successful, then those safeties aren't gonna come up."
Mack (3,081 career rushing yards) needs 51 yards to unseat UCF's Willie English for 13th place on Florida's all-time list, and 138 to move past FSU's Travis Minor for 12th place.
GETTING CREATIVE: Bulls fans might have noticed some formations bordering on the exotic lately, especially at Temple. In a addition to the occasional stack formations (one receiver behind another), USF employed a diamond look in which four receivers were bunched together on one side.
"Part of our playing fast is not just playing fast, it's the ability to play fast with a different look," Weist said. "Now they have to adjust it, now they have to practice it. It's kind of similar to us on defense practicing the double- and triple-option -- you don't see it much."
AUDIBLE: "The bottom line is, we just didn't execute our offense from an alignment standpoint, from an assignment standpoint. We missed some plays. We left at least three touchdowns on the field just by execution, so that's what we have to get corrected this week." -- Weist on the offensive performance last week at Temple, where USF ran only 53 plays and had two first-quarter possessions
By Matt Baker, Times Staff Writer
GAINESVILLE – When Nick Saban put Alabama’s coaching staff together in 2008, his two coordinators knew almost nothing about each other.
Newly promoted defensive coordinator Kirby Smart knew just-hired offensive guru Jim McElwain had worked at Louisville and assumed he had ties to Bobby Petrino. McElwain knew even less about his counterpart but learned everything he needed to when Smart was one of the first people to greet him in Tuscaloosa.
“Which tells you what kind of guy he is,” McElwain said.
Eight and a half years later, the two will meet Saturday under different circumstances, when McElwain leads No. 14 Florida against Smart’s Georgia Bulldogs in Jacksonville. Aside from enormous SEC East implications for the Gators and bragging rights in one of the league’s most storied rivalries, both coaches have a personal stake going head-to-head against a good friend.
“When you work together like that in an environment like that, you get to know each other pretty well,” McElwain said. “You know, our wives know each other. I mean… it becomes a family."
The friendship might not be as tight as others that the Gators are used to. Will Muschamp and Jimbo Fisher famously owned a Panama City house together when Muschamp was at UF.
But four years, 48 wins and two national championships together forges strong relationships that transcend meeting rooms and recruiting visits.
“I think they truly liked each other,” said UF defensive line coach Chris Rumph, who worked with both at Bama in 2011. “You know, sometimes you can just be working buddies or whatever, but I think they truly like each other, and I think they respected each other for what each one brings to the table.”
The respect continues, even on opposite sides of EverBank Field.
Smart said he has always admired the way McElwain prepared for games. His offenses were diverse at Bama and remained that way at Colorado State and UF, creating problems for opposing coaches (like Smart).
McElwain also goes about his business differently than Smart. Both can be fiery, but McElwain’s personality is more colorful.
“He’s very different,” Smart said. ‘He’s a funny guy, dry sense of humor, very family-oriented. A great man to be around. I always thought he does a great job offensively, and the players, when I was around him, really liked him a lot and played hard for him.”
McElwain raves about the way Smart put together plans for the Tide’s elite defenses, which ranked in the top seven in scoring during their four years together. McElwain said he figured out pretty quickly that Smart would become a head coach eventually and admired the patience his friend showed in waiting for a shot at taking over his alma mater.
“It’s a place obviously near and dear to him, being a native there, obviously played there, all of the things that go into it,” McElwain said. “And long and well deserved.”
Although some of Saban’s protégés have become big successes (Fisher at FSU, Mark Dantonio at Michigan State), Florida and Georgia know that his coaching tree has produced some deadwood, too. Former Tennessee coach Derek Dooley was 0-6 against the Gators and Bulldogs. Muschamp went 1-3 against UGA before getting fired in 2014.
Smart said he knows his relationship and coaching history with McElwain become irrelevant at kickoff, when the players take over. But as Saturday’s game approaches, he said the perspective of facing a friend and former colleague adds more drama to the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
“I know it’s important to him,” Smart said. “It’s important to me. Now we’re just against each other.”
Contact Matt Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.