Though the Bulls havent been able to improve their performance in the win column during the last three weeks, the teams running game has shown marked advancements despite tough opposition.
Against the No. 3 Seminoles, who came into the game boasting the second-ranked total defense and fifth-ranked rush defense in the nation, the Bulls established the two-back system of seniors Demetris Murray and Lindsey Lamar early in the game, controlling the clock and outgaining the Seminoles in the first quarter 144 to 85 including 82 yards on the ground.
Early in the game we had some different wrinkles, I guess you could call them, in the running game, offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said. We had some success in the early couple of drives. They closed it down a little bit as the game went on, but it helped us move the ball a little better and sustain some drives.
Fitch credited the strong play of his offensive line, which had been maligned for some of its performances earlier in the season, including losses to Rutgers and Ball State.
The pad level of our guys was very good up front, he said. And as we came out of the locker room in the second half, I think the offensive line and the backs did a good job creating a rhythm.
Senior guard Danous Estenor, one of three seniors starting on the offensive line, said the team recovered from a slow start caused by changes in the teams starting lineup.
We werent really sure what we would get from the starting unit early in the season, he said. So the motto for this week was to just get off the ball and hit whatever is in front of you, and that helped us succeed.
After the strong start in the first quarter, the Bulls were limited to 43 rushing yards in the final three quarters. Coach Skip Holtz said the Seminole defense deserved credit for stopping USF.
I thought in the first half, the offensive line came off the ball, we were able to create a game plan and run the ball, he said. The difference was that in the second half, when they brought an extra man into the box and tried to outnumber us, we couldnt beat them with our passing game in man coverage.
Murray said the Seminoles attention to USFs running game proved the success the team had on the ground.
I told the guys after the game that, even though theyre the No. 4 team in the country, they had to put an extra man in the box to stop the running game, he said. Which I think is a positive. Our running game and offensive line did a good job, and thats something you can hang your hat on.
If the Bulls are able to consistently run the ball in Big East play which continues this Saturday when the Bulls welcome Temple back into the Big East for the Owls first Big East game since 2005 they may be able to throw the ball down the field thanks to more attention from safeties.
For the teams passing game to get back on track, it will look to get the ball to sophomore receiver Andre Davis, who has been limited to 11 catches for 108 yards and one score in three games since setting a school record with 12 catches for 191 yards and two touchdowns in USFs 32-31 win over Nevada on Sept 8.
Its really big to be able to run the ball, because we have a lot of decent running backs, Davis said. So its encouraging to see them get going and maybe it can open up everything else (on offense).