As the NFL Wildcard Weekend gets underway, USF football fans are about to experience something that they never have before: a star offensive player from the school on the NFL’s big stage.
That’s when the school’s all-time leading rusher, second-year running back Marlon Mack will start for the Colts in their AFC Wildcard showdown at the Texans Saturday afternoon.
Mack has come on strong in Indianapolisl stretch run, where they won nine of their final 10 games to make the playoffs. That included a tremendous Sunday night performance in their “winner-take-all game” at the Tennessee Titans. Mack finished with 25 carries 119 yards and a touchdown (above), as the Colts essentially won the head-to-head “de facto playoff game” to advance to the actual postseason this weekend.
And, it was the second time in three games were Mack had run for 100 yards in a contest, including going back to week 15 when he had 139 yards and two scores in the Colts 23 – 0 blowout of the Cowboys. All total, Mack has four 100-yard games on the year, comes in averaging 4.4 yards per carry and has scored nine rushing touchdowns in 2018.
Those numbers are nothing new for Bulls fans as they watched Mack in 2015 – 16 tear apart the American Athletic Conference. When it was all said and done finished his Bulls career with 3,609 yards, a gaudy 6.2 average, 20 career 100 yard or more rushing games and 33 career TDs. That’s good enough for the school rushing record and most 100 yard rushing games ever.
So, it’s not hyperbole to say that this is the biggest game to date in which a USF offensive football player will be showcased.
Now, N.C. State rookie running back Nyheim Hines has also seen some action in tandem with Mack running for 314 yards this sesaon, as well. And, it’s expected that he will get some carries in Houston Saturday, too.
And sure, the Colts fortunes will largely rise and fall on former number 1 pick quarterback Andrew Luck battling against JJ Watt Jadeveon Clowney and the Texans.
Still, Marlon Mack may very well factor in whether Indianapolis stays alive in the playoffs and there’s no disputing that’s a source of pride for Bulls fans in Tampa.
Bulls OC Bell takes responsibility for shut out against Wisconsin
In Friday night’s opener against Big Ten perennial contender Wisconsin, the Bulls had suffered their worst loss in program history and left fans wondering what has caused such a downward spiral in the program over the last year and a half? And in a 49-0 loss, its hard to tell which side of the ball is a bigger struggle for the South Florida program?
While both looked alarmingly bad, the lack of offense was the ultimate reasoning behind the shut out, which led coordinator Kerwin Bell to taking full responsibility when speaking to the media on Wednesday.
— Joey Knight (@TBTimes_Bulls) September 4, 2019
“I’m the OC so I take all the blame, that’s all on my shoulders,” said Bell. “I’ve been in that position before, I’ve been shut out before, it didn’t feel good and surely last Friday night didn’t also. I was very disappointed in our performance. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Bell offered somewhat of an explanation as to why the team came out looking so ill-prepared and resembling every bit the team that lost their final six games last season. He said it’s the style of offense he’s introducing and that it takes time to get a team fully acclimated to it, which is not a new feat for him.
“This system is a little bit different than what everybody runs in college football, it’s more of a pro style. A lot of thinking, a lot of going through progressions and receivers changing their route on the run,” he added, “It takes a little bit of time and I’ve incorporated this thing 3 or 4 times now in new systems and we’ll be able to handle it. We’ll get up to speed, we just need some success with it.”
Bell also touched on the absence of USFs star slot receiver Johnny Ford. While there’s been no explanation to why he sat out of last weekends game, the Bulls play-caller did say that having him back will free up the rest of the offense in a major way.
“Johnny missing the game was big for us. We had a lot stuff on him to handle some of their man coverages. He’s a great man beater for us. With him being out it really put a lot of extra emphasis on other guys and he really frees up the team because he’s got so much ability running and catching the football.”
Bell, as head coach, led Valdosta State to an unbeaten season this past year and the Division II national championship. His offense at Valdosta led the nation in scoring (52.0 ppg), ranked second in first downs (341) and was fourth in total offense (523.9 ypg), red-zone offense (.901) and pass efficiency (167.37).
He has been around the block, coaching at various levels of college ball plus the CFL and high school. In addition to his many stops along the way as a coach, he also carved out a professional playing career which lasted over a decade.
Although he may have a history of offensive success, he’ll have a short timeline to start seeing success under head coach Charlie Strong or it may be a foregone conclusion before USF ever begins American Conference play, that this will be Strong’s final year and would likely Bells, as well.
Bulls QB Barnett will maintain starting spot against Georgia Tech
After the Bulls opened their season with the worst loss in USF football history against Wisconsin this past weekend, a lot of criticism has been directed at the two predominant faces of the program, head coach Charlie Strong and starting QB Blake Barnett. However, there will be no apparent changes to the make-up of this team any time soon. Strong announced Monday that Barnett will still be the “go to” guy to lead his offense.
Bulls beat writer Joey Knight reported from Strong’s press conference Monday afternoon.
Strong says Barnett still is his guy. Indicated dropped passes, failure to spring run game led to his struggles. "For (the first) two series, he looked really good." #USF
— Joey Knight (@TBTimes_Bulls) September 2, 2019
Strong indicated that it was the initial two dropped passes by Jernard Phillips and Michigan transfer Eddie McDoom along with the failure to spring the run game that set then tone for the offensive failure on Friday night.
Still, Barnett was only 13-for-30 for 109 yards, two interceptions, a fumble, and three sacks. The Bulls had 157 total yards on the night with 40 of those yards coming on their final drive of the game, as they were already down 49-0. The loss makes this the 7th in a row for the Bulls, and fans continuing to question wether 23-year-old veteran quarterback has what it takes to turn the program around.
South Florida’s other option would be redshirt freshman Jordan McCloud, a Tampa native who as senior, completed 160 of 295 passes for 2,426 yards and 26 touchdowns. He led Sickles High School to a 12-2 record, district and regional titles, and a trip to the state semifinals in 2018.
At this point, the Bulls don’t really have much to lose by giving McCloud some playing time. He may be able to spark USF, where Barnett clearly has not been able to since last October. Clearly, if Barnett struggles again, then McCloud will likely see some action Saturday.
USF will play at Georgia Tech next Saturday, which has a new coach and was blown out by Clemson to start the season. And, the Bulls defeated the Jackets in a wild 49-38 game a year ago.
And, if the Bulls are not better, or at least competitive with the Yellow Jackets, it may be a foregone conclusion before USF ever begins American Conference play, that this will be Strong’s final year.
And, anyone that wants to argue with that, should put in the tape and watch how poorly his recruits and his coaches performed Friday night, when they had everything pointing to a huge game at home with the Badgers for months.