Running game goes unnoticed

It’s just past halfway through USF’s football season and a healthy Bulls running game has been overshadowed by an ineffective defense and an inept passing attack.

The Bulls’ defense, which has been ranked No. 17 nationally at the end of the past two seasons, has become dramatically worse. Inexperience and injuries have USF’s defensive unit ranked No. 68 of 117 teams in total defense.

Three freshmen, all backups at the beginning of the season, have had to mature quickly.

Freshmen Danny Verpaele, Trae Williams, and Allen Cray have all had starts this season after starters have gone down with injuries, and all three are projected to start in the Bulls next game on Nov. 3 at UAB.

“As far as the season goes,” USF coach Jim Leavitt said, “where we’re at is we’d like to be better than we are now.

“We knew we were fairly young, but our young guys have got to get older,” he said. “We’ve played some games now. We don’t have a lot of depth this year. We’ve got a number of guys that are banged up this year that we really need to get out there and play. So we’re gaining a lot of experience. A lot of different guys are getting a lot of snaps. We played a lot of freshmen last game.”

USF’s running game, led by junior Andre Hall, has been a bright spot for the Bulls. In his first season at USF, the transfer from Garden City Community College is close to making history. His seven rushing touchdowns are only two shy of the USF all-time record.

He has 99 carries for 547 yards on the season for an average of 91.2 yards per game. He is ranked No. 10 nationally in all-purpose yards and his 200 yards rushing against Army were the most a Bull has rushed against a Division I opponent.

And Hall is just one part of USF’s rushing attack.

Clenton Crossley is the other. Although he has never been the kind of featured back he wants to be, that hasn’t stopped the senior from eating up yardage.

Earlier in the season he moved to second on USF’s career-rushing list with 1,524 yards. He trails Rafael Williams by 729 yards. He has 63 carries for 284 yards on the season for an average of 47.3 yards per game.

Together Hall and Crossley have averaged close to 140 yards per game.

But according to Crossley, the running game isn’t enough.

“We’re getting back to basics,” Crossley said. “Pitch and catch. We’ve got to throw the ball. We’ve been running the ball pretty good but we have to have a balanced offense.”

USF has the No. 114-rated passing offense in the country.

“As a team overall we’ve been making too many mistakes,” Crossley said. “We’ve just got to push through this because it has been rough. It’s real rough. Nobody likes to lose — especially the way we’ve been losing.”

USF, who makes the move to a BCS conference next season, doesn’t have the best rankings this season by the six computer polls that factor into the BCS standings. The Bulls are ranked from as low as No. 92 in the country to as high as No. 75. In at least one poll, there are Division I-AA teams ranked ahead of them.

“We’ll get there,” USF coach Jim Leavitt said. “We’ve got a little lapse going on right now. I know we’re going to win; we hope the sooner the better, but I know we’ll win. I know that’ll happen. I don’t have any doubt about that. We just have got to get back to the people really playing and playing hard — get our horses in line and all that stuff.”