Like Warren Sapp sitting on a see-saw with Martin Gramatica, the USF offense has been all one-sided.
The Bulls currently have the 48th-ranked passing offense, but USF’s success on the ground has been minimal. USF’s run attack ranks 103rd in the nation, but the Bulls (3-2) had their most productive outing against North Texas Saturday, racking up 161 yards rushing.
“The first three or four games, we were frustrated that we weren’t getting the ball,” junior tailback Quinton Callum said. “We know coming to South Florida we have to block in situations like that. We’re throwing the ball more, so Coach Leavitt told us more during the week that as the season progressed, we’d start having the offense more balanced, running and throwing.
“It was a challenge to us to know that Coach Leavitt said, ‘We’re going to give you the ball; you have to make it happen.'”
Entering the North Texas game though, USF was making little of anything running the football. The Bulls had rushed for 61 yards apiece against Arkansas and Oklahoma, while barely toppling the 100-yard mark vs. Florida Atlantic and Northern Illinois. In an effort to pump up the ground numbers, USF coach Jim Leavitt has opened each of the past two games in a two-back shotgun set.
“We’re mixing it up a little bit, trying to get a little bit more balance and trying to work a little bit more two-back,” Leavitt said.
Changing formations hasn’t been the only noticeable difference in the USF attack. The Bulls’ starting backfield has been a regular revolving door with a different starter every week. Vince Brewer and Callum took the nod vs. the Mean Green a week after Clenton Crossley and DeJuan Green got the honors against Oklahoma.
“We’re not selfish, but it’s a battle,” Callum said. “On and off the field, we’re all friends and cool with each other. We even have a better understanding now that we have a year under our belt to know everybody. Once we’re on the field, it’s business. We have to go out there and battle.
“Everbody wants to play, but you have to go out and practice hard and let the coaches decide that situation when game time comes.”
Making the decision even harder has been the inconsistency of USF’s quartet of backs. Green started against Oklahoma and led the team with 14 carries for 33 yards, but his fumble at the Sooner 17-yard line left him on the bench vs. North Texas. Green had one carry for one yard against the Mean Green.
Brewer led the team in rushing against Florida Atlantic and Arkansas, but his combined output against Oklahoma and Northern Illinois was six yards.
Crossley has most yards and carries out of the group, but he still trails quarterback Marquel Blackwell, who leads the team in rushing with 149 yards.
Callum received his first start against North Texas and responded with 12 rushes for 41 yards and USF’s lone rushing touchdown. But in his first four games, Callum ran five times for negative nine yards.
“We’ve all been patient and waited our turn,” Callum said. “Once we get in there, we have to make something happen because as quick as we’re in there, we can be out.”
USF’s ground game will take on added importance Saturday against Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles (4-1) possess the nation’s 12th-best defense against the pass, holding opposing quarterbacks to a 72.7 rating, the third lowest mark in the country. But Southern Miss is vulnerable to the run, surrendering 173 yards per contest, 84th among 117 Division I-A teams.
“We’re starting to come through,” Green said. “We’re getting in a groove, and the offensive line is coming together with (tackle Derrick) Sarosi and those other boys. We can really help the offense out if we catch on and give teams different looks. It’ll make defenses off-balance and take a lot of pressure off Marquel.”