Once a question mark, USF’s offensive line has sparkled

Danny Hope, USF’s fourth offensive line coach since 2011, has been credited by the players with the unit’s turnaround this season.

When training camp broke in late August, USF’s offensive line was still a unit in limbo.

On its fourth coach in four years and three seasoned veterans lost to graduation, it was easy to take one peek and worry what the future would hold.

Could they keep quarterback Quinton Flowers’ rear-end off the turf? Would there be enough holes for Marlon Mack to zip through to find the open field? With no experienced center, who would be calling the shots?

All were valid questions. But now, they’re moot points. From question mark to one of the Bulls’ most important — and consistent — anchors, the evolution of the Bulls’ big men over the past 11 weeks has been nothing short of astounding.

“That’s a special group, too,” coach Willie Taggart said. “I’ve said before that they’re probably the closest group on our football team.”

The first step was finding the right voice to lead. After Skip Holtz’s departure in 2012, Taggart went through Walt Wells and Paul Wulff before finally landing former Purdue coach Danny Hope to head the unit this season. 

The move has paid off immeasurably, as the Bulls own the nation’s 15th-best rushing attack, thanks in part to the continuity up front spearheaded by Hope’s guidance.

“I’d say each and every game we play, we get better and better, and our continuity gets better and better,” fifth-year senior right tackle Mak Djulbegovic said. “I think before the season, we were all great friends and really knew each other well. But now, we know each other as competitors. We know how to work together. 

“It used to be (the case that) the communication was a little off, and now there’s no miscommunication or miscues or anything. We can look at each other in the morning and know how each other is feeling.”

What had become a recurring theme in past seasons, the Bulls have no longer been forced to rotate linemen throughout games. All five starters — center Brynjar Gudmundsson, left guard Thor Jozwiak, right guard Dominique Threatt, left tackle Kofi Amichia and Djulbegovic — have played every offensive snap in recent games. 

“It’s very, very important and we’ve reaped some benefits from it,” Hope said.  

Gudmundsson, a fifth-year senior who had never played center in a game before this season, credited their ability to stay healthy and their closeness on and off the field as the main reasons of their success. 

“I think it was just coming together and coach Hope really helped bring that culture into the (offensive) line,” he said. “Just playing for one another and finishing through the whistle and playing as hard as you can. We’ve just really been taking those things into action and it’s proven to work very well.”

Whatever it is, Taggart doesn’t want it to change.

“It was a matter of time before those guys really started to click,” he said. “It just takes a minute to get that synergy that we needed from everyone because there were so many different faces out there, and it was going take a while to get going and figure each other out and be able to work together. 

“It really does help being able to play 10 games and not have to switch guys in and out. That helped us get better as an offense more importantly.”