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USF Bulls

Running game coming into focus for Bulls

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 03:57 PM
PHILADELPHIA -

The University of South Florida's offense has been here, there and everywhere in the early season. For the Bulls to control the Temple Owls in today's Big East Conference matchup at Lincoln Financial Field, USF might turn to something completely different.

A game-long commitment to the run.

It could be the recipe for USF (2-3, 0-1) to break its three-game losing streak and defeat Temple (1-2), which resumes Big East play after a seven-season absence.

"Every game has its own identity, depending on who you're playing and the situation,'' USF offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said. "When you can run, your red-zone numbers get better. But also, if you get up on people, that's the way you finish games out, by keeping the clock running.''

USF coach Skip Holtz said the Bulls are "more equipped'' to establish a running game. The offensive line, despite four different starting lineups in five games, has displayed more consistency. The running backs each have had nice moments.

"It feels good to get the kickoff and go right down the field,'' said USF senior offensive lineman Mark Popek, who has alternated between guard and tackle on the left side. "Hopefully, we can keep running the ball more. Sometimes, when you get behind, you get in a little bit of a hurry to pass the ball. When you line up to run the ball and are successful at it and continue to do it, that should (make you) more successful.''

USF has established an aggressive running-game attitude during the past two weeks.

Against Ball State, USF took the opening kickoff and called 15 straight running plays. The drive was derailed by two penalties, after it reached the Ball State 1-yard line, and the Bulls settled for a field goal.

Against Florida State, USF had five straight runs and a play-action pass that worked to the Seminoles' 18-yard line before the drive bogged down, leading, again, to an opening-drive field goal.

"We've definitely put a focal point on the run,'' USF running backs coach Larry Scott said. "Any time you can move the ball forward like that, it does wonders for the emotional psyche of the whole offense.''

Particularly the quarterback.

Senior B.J. Daniels, feeling the wear and tear of a demanding early season, was limited in practice this week with an ankle injury. He's the team's leading rusher (271 yards) and has accounted for 1,556 yards of offense (77 percent of USF's total), so could use an occasional break.

"Especially at the beginning, you want to hit the other team in the mouth,'' Daniels said. "For our guys up front, starting the game off strong like they did and being able to smash guys, that really gives them a sense of confidence and it transpires through the game.''

The Bulls have relied upon two seniors, Demetris Murray (247 yards), the team's most complete back, and Lindsey Lamar (163 yards, 5.3-yard average), an electrifying threat. Junior Marcus Shaw, one of the team's most impressive performers during training camp, has been limited to six carries due to a lingering ankle injury.

"It's Temple's first Big East game (since 2004) and they're going to be fired up,'' Murray said. "We've got to control the line of scrimmage and take care of business.''

In two of their three defeats, USF was tied or ahead with three minutes to play.

Obviously, USF needs to finish.

But if it can build upon its recent starts – a strong running game from the get-go – that might be part of the secret.


jjohnston@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7353 Twitter: JJohnstonTrib

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