With USF starting running back Marlon Mack questionable for Saturday’s match up with Northern Illinois University, the Bulls depth will be tested for the first time in 2016.
Even without the First Team All-Conference Mack, USF is confident in the backs who follow him.
“Marlon Mack is a great running back, but you have to remember his back-ups make him the great running back he is,” defensive back Devin Abraham said. “D’Ernest Johnson, Darius Tice, they’re both really well-rounded backs, they can play ball, they can run the ball just like Marlon. That’s why our running back group is so deep, just the competition back there.”
In limited roles last season, Tice rushed for 460 yards and Johnson had an all-around performance with 307 rushing and 26 receptions for 356 yards. He even added two passing touchdowns on two attempts.
Even though Tice and Johnson haven’t put up as impressive numbers as their counterpart just yet, coach Willie Taggart expects big things from his two backs if Mack is held out.
“I think if Marlon doesn’t play, then those guys have the opportunity to go out and show what we’ve all been saying from day one, which is that we have some depth at that position,” Taggart said. “I think it’s a big opportunity to showcase that. We have all the trust in the world that those guys will go in and do a great job for us. We won’t have to change anything game plan wise, which is always good.
In past seasons, USF would have had little to no answers if a lead-back such as Mack was in question of not playing.
But now with two proven backs who can manage the load well enough on their own, the Bulls will have no reason for concern Saturday against the quick defensive front of Northern Illinois.
“I think the average fan doesn’t respect them as much as they do Marlon Mack because of the name he has for himself, but Darius Tice and D’Ernest, really all of our backs, they’re great,” offensive lineman Kofi Amichia said. “It’s just the situation where Mack already made a name for himself so they haven’t shined yet. Like Darius Tice, he can run you over and shake you off the field. Whenever I see him hit the open field I know he’s about to get 30 yards.
“And D’Ernest, you can see with all his preseason awards, he’s a pretty all-around guy. When he’s out there, you can do whatever. He can run, you can throw it to him, he can throw it himself. They’re definitely going to shine this week.”