Bulls pack backfield against Orange
Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 25, 2012 08:10
When the Bulls take the field against Syracuse on Saturday, USF will have a weapon that has been largely missing in the team’s school-record five-game losing streak — a strong rushing attack.
After gaining a net 197 yards on the ground in a 27-25 loss to Louisville, the Bulls have established a running game that was inconsistent in losses to Rutgers, Ball State, Florida State and Temple. A large part of the success has been the variety in the backfield, thanks to the play of junior Marcus Shaw and seniors Lindsey Lamar and Demetris Murray, who combined for 197 rushing yards in 32 attempts while senior quarterback B.J. Daniels’ rushing abilities were neutralized.
“With Lindsey and then Marcus back healthy, all three guys had a lot of touches,” offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said. “Then Murray had 12 or 13 as well, so if we can get our backs out to the second level of the defense they can use the burst, and it helps us get those yards on the ground.”
While Shaw and Lamar play the speed back role — Lamar leads the team at 5.9 yards per carry — the redshirt senior Murray brings the ability to run between the tackles, which he used to pick up 57 yards on 13 carries against Louisville.
“I think the most encouraging thing was that all three of the backs were able to contribute to the offense,” Fitch said. “We even had Demetris pounding it inside and punching it in on that two-point play, they all fill those roles, which will help us.”
Though the Bulls face a stout defense on Saturday — the Orange have yet to allow an opponent to rush for 100 or more yards in a conference game and are second in the conference in rushing defense — USF faced a similar challenge a week ago and responded well.
Matched up against a Cardinal defense that was allowing 114 rushing yards per game a week ago, USF used its three backs to pick up 231 rushing yards not including sacks, which coach Skip Holtz said could be attributed to the team’s offensive line.
“To go out and rush for 240 yards was encouraging,” he said. “The offensive line was coming off the ball well, it wasn’t just the running back cutting against the grain and getting as many yards as possible. There were legitimate holes from the offensive line to run through.”
The Bulls will look for another strong performance from Lamar, who led the team with 15 rushes for 110 yards including multiple strong gains up the middle while averaging 7.3 yards per carry.
Daniels, who is working back into his regular rushing offense after an ankle injury against Temple, said the combination of the offensive line and Lamar’s skills can result in strong perfor- mances on the ground.
“Lindsey did a good job last weekend, but that’s also a big credit to the offensive line,” he said. “They created a lot of big holes, and with the type of running back that he is, he’s explosive and he always has a chance to take it the distance.”
Lamar’s success on the ground has been a pleasant surprise after Holtz and the USF coaching staff initially considered redshirting Lamar at the beginning of the season.
“Coming into the season, Marcus Shaw was the guy for us after having a great camp,” Holtz said. “Then when he got injured we had to start knocking the rust off of Lindsey, and you can really see him getting into that midseason form now. He is feeling comfortable, he’s running confident, he’s understanding the blocking scheme and seeing things well.”
With three healthy backs on the roster entering the game against Syracuse — which kicks off at 7 p.m. — the USF football team has the chance to build a running attack that could be the boost it needs to get back in the win column.
“It’s a running back by com- mittee for us right now,” Holtz said. “We will be using all of them quite a bit and will need all three of them down the stretch of this season.”