Before South Florida’s Senior Night game against Louisville, freshman running back Mike Ford made a promise to senior offensive tackle Walt Walker.
“Mike Ford came up to me before the game and said, ‘Walt, I’m going to play this game for you today. I’m going to finish this game for you,'” Walker said. “And I said, ‘We’ll do it together – I’ll block for you and you run’.”
From the opening whistle Saturday night, it was clear that Ford was intent on keeping his promise.
On South Florida’s first two offensive plays, the freshman broke runs of 43 and 23 yards. Three plays later, Ford scored on a six-yard touchdown run. In his second career start for the Bulls, the freshman accounted for 72 of South Florida’s 86 yards on its initial drive.
“We got at them early and came in and dominated,” Ford said. “(That’s good because) when you get something like that at the beginning, their self-esteem gets kind of down.”
The Bulls’ opening drive was a sign of things to come for the Louisville defense, which got a heavy dose of Ford throughout the night. The freshman finished the day with 140 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries, many of which ended with the
220-pound running back battering a tired Louisville defense and falling forward for extra yards.
“You want to do that,” Walker said. “You want to hand the ball off to Mike Ford and get him going. Mike Ford is a bruising runner. He’s not going to cut back, he’s going to lower his shoulder and go for it, and that keeps us going.”
Offensive coordinator Greg Gregory feels that Ford’s combination of size and strength is what makes him such a talented running back.
“He’s a big back, and he has that ability when he gets going downhill that, even when you hit him, he’s got a chance to fall forward,” Gregory said. “That’s a big difference, that force he has coming with him. He did a real good job for us.”
With Ford providing a constant threat on the ground, quarterback Matt Grothe was able to pick apart Louisville’s pass defense. The sophomore completed 17 of 24 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns against the Cardinals, who allowed 481 yards of offense against the Bulls, the third highest total of the season.
Grothe feels that much of South Florida’s offensive success over the last two games has been because of Ford, who has rushed for 274 yards and four touchdowns in the last two weeks. With his 140-yard performance against Louisville, Ford became the only freshman in USF history to post consecutive 100-yard rushing games.
“He’s been huge,” Grothe said. “He’s really stepped up, and whenever we need a yard or two he gets it. He’s just going to get better, too – that’s the biggest thing. It’s helped us all – the offense, the defense, the whole team.”
When the clock ran down, with the scoreboard proclaiming a 55-17 victory for South Florida, Ford knew he had kept his promise to Walker.
The freshman running back had posted his best rushing game of the season, helping to secure a win for the team’s upperclassmen on Senior Night.
“We’re always dedicated to the seniors because we know if it was us we’d want them to be, too,” Ford said.
As the team celebrated the victory, Ford agreed that the Bulls’ performance against Louisville was the best way the graduating players could have spent their final collegiate game at Raymond James Stadium.
And, after the win this week, Ford also knows how the team can ensure the best possible end for the seniors’ final season of college football.
“With a win this week and a win next week,” he said.