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Bulls lean on offensive line in first conference win

The offensive line helped the Bulls rush for 158 yards against UConn on Friday, more than double their total against N.C. State.

With second-and-goal at the UConn 1-yard-line, the Bulls chose to run the ball behind their 300-pound offensive linemen. Freshman running back Marlon Mack plunged through for USF’s first score with 11:22 left in the first quarter to go up 7-0 on UConn (1-3, 0-1).

In front of a crowd of 11,599 who stuck it out in the pouring rain, the Bulls came out on top in their conference opener, going on to win 17-14 behind a dominant showing from the Bulls’ offensive line.

“One thing about us that’s so good is that we can throw the ball, but we can also pound the ball all game like we did today and make throws when we need to,” sophomore quarterback Mike White said. “We rode the back of our offensive line.”

USF (2-2, 1-0) saw a complete turnaround from last week in the trenches. Mike White had time to set his feet and make throws, something that had not happened in any of the three previous games.

“It wasn’t just the protection, it was the run game,” White said. “UConn knew, with the weather like that, we had to the run the ball and we still were able to move the ball down the field basically whenever we wanted to.”

Mack was USF’s workhorse, rushing for 103 yards and a touchdown on a career-high 31 carries. This was in part due to the physicality and toughness of USF’s linemen.

After receiving criticism last season, USF’s offensive linemen came into this season with a chip on their shoulders, wanting to prove critics wrong. 

The first three games of the season, however, made it seem quite the opposite.

With the absence of senior guard Thor Jozwiak, who injured his shoulder in the first half of USF’s season opener, inexperience and poor play quickly caught up with the offensive line.

Jozwiak, who returned this week, said the offensive line held a players-only meeting last Monday to figure out what they could do to “fix their identity up front.”

“We sat down as a unit, no coaches, and got on the whiteboard, wanting to establish what we could do to get better and really play physical,” Jozwiak said.

That focus carried over into Saturday’s game when the Bulls were able to stay on the field and maintain drives, a task not accomplished so far this season.

The Bulls ran 71 plays against the Huskies defense and held the ball for 39 minutes compared to UConn’s 21.

“I was really pleased with our offense getting first downs,” coach Willie Taggart said. “We had one drive coming out of halftime where we took about six minutes off the clock. When you can play like that, good things will happen for you.”

Next week, USF’s offensive line will be tested against one of the most physical teams in the country when they travel to Madison on Saturday to play No. 19 Wisconsin in Camp Randall Stadium at noon. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.