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Bulls find answer in backfield

Darius Tice will be the starting running back for the Bulls when they play the season opener Saturday against Western Carolina.
ORACLE FILE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

The Bulls entered this past offseason with hopes of a sound rushing attack only for things to be shaken up, leaving them with decisions to make.

With the graduation of Marcus Shaw, who led the team with 816 yards last season, and the transfer of redshirt junior Willie Davis to Tennessee Tech, the Bulls lost depth and experience from their backfield.

USF now looks to lean on sophomore Darius Tice, who is pegged as the opening day starter on the official depth chart, to carry the workload. Freshmen Marlon Mack and D’Ernest Johnson follow close behind to help strengthen a major point of weakness in the offense.

“It’s a committee approach,” Tice said. “I’m leading it off right now with (Mack and Johnson) behind me, so we’re all contributing and doing our part.”

Tice finished the season with the second most yards on the team (151), but only played 65 snaps. The lack of experience across the board will be a struggle for the Bulls rushing attack.

Behind Tice stand two four-star freshmen that look to contribute early and often.

“We lost Mike Pierre halfway through the summer, so we definitely had some concerns,” offensive coordinator Paul Wulff said. “But in the back of our mind we knew we had signed two running backs that could play early and they’ve proven that in camp.”

One of these freshmen is Mack, a Booker High School star who came to USF as a four-star recruit according to ESPN.com. Under head coach and former USF defensive back Johnnie Jones, Mack rushed for 1,527 yards and 19 touchdowns in his senior season.

Mack, who split first-team reps with Tice, will start out the season behind him, but with tight competition, there is always room for change.

“One day one guy will have a good practice, the next day the freshmen have a good practice,” running backs coach Telly Lockette said. “Right now we’re just trying to find some stability and see whose going to take the bull by the horns.”

Amid an offense that ranked 118th in rushing (89.6 ypg) and 108th in passing (166.8), the coaching staff is looking to find a consistent means of offense.

“The goal was to get great at a few things — running game, passing game — and really develop an identity and grow from there,” Wulff said.

Rounding out the backfield will be Johnson, a four-star running back out of Immokalee High School. Johnson saw fewer first-team reps in training camp and might need more time to develop into a bigger role.