The USFNation staff continues to review the past football season and offer a spring outlook as the recruiting season winds down. After reviewing the quarterbacks, we can turn our attention to the running backs. Just like the quarterback position, the running back position had its fair share of questions heading into this past season. USF dismissed two of their top returning running backs from the team in Mike Ford and Jamar Taylor. That was the bad news, but the Bulls received some good news when they found out that senior running back Moise Plancher was granted a 6th year of eligibility from the NCAA. This proved to be very important as the Plancher represented a hardworking and reliable running back that the staff could trust to carry the load during the season.
As it is known, the Bulls had a much different offense under Head Coach Skip Holtz than they were used to in previous years. In the past, the Bulls running attack was predicated off of the zone read and the quarterback was instrumental in the running game. In fact, the quarterback has been the team's leading rusher over the past four years. Holtz and the staff were determined to change that aspect of the offense. While moving away from the zone read, the new staff implemented a multiple look offense that would include some zone read elements but more of an emphasis on pro-style sets.
During the spring game, Bulls fans got a glimpse of a formation that was rarely used if ever over the past few years in the offset I-formation. This look gave the Bulls a more traditional look on offense and paved the way for more use of the play action pass. Plancher showed a lot of comfort during the spring game in the new offense as he received a bulk of the carries culminating 54 yards rushing and a touchdown for 5.4 ypc average. This proved to be a good for the Bulls' rushing attack entering the season.
Plancher, although not a game breaker, provided the coaches with someone they could trust to execute all aspects of the offense whether it was running, catching or blocking in the passing game. He finished the season with a career high 793 yards rushing and tied for the team lead in touchdowns with 5. He also caught 15 passes for 99 yards. His best performance of the season came against Rutgers, a conference foe in which the Bulls were carrying a four game losing streak against. Plancher rushed for 135 yards on 21 carries and caught three more passes for an additional 45 yards. He did fumble twice but because the Bulls recovered both fumbles it did not hurt the team. Behind Plancher's effort, the Bulls were able to end that losing streak and exorcise a few demons in the process.
Aside from Plancher, there was relatively little to no experience. Redshirt sophomore running back Demetris Murray however worked hard during the offseason into the spring and summer practices and established himself as the top backup. Although he battled an ankle injury during the season, Murray posted respectable numbers as he rushed for 533 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also had 11 receptions for 153 yards and 2 touchdowns. Murray's best game of the season was just a week after Plancher's big game against Rutgers. He rushed for 106 yards against another conference opponent in Louisville and had a big run in that game that led to points on the board for the Bulls. Murray's effort along with great special teams play allowed the Bulls to win for the first time ever at Louisville. Murray was also instrumental in the Bulls' first win over Miami as he scored the game winning touchdown in overtime.
Other running backs that saw the field, although in limited snaps were redshirt freshman Bradley Battles and true freshman Marcus Shaw. Battles saw snaps in 7 games rushed for 57 yards. He was not relied upon as the season progressed as both Plancher and Murray carried the bulk of the load. Marcus Shaw gave the Bulls a glimpse of his playmaking abilities as he rushed for 114 yards on 11 carries with a rushing score. Being a true freshman adjusting the college life can prove to be troubling for some and that was exactly the case with Shaw. Coach Holtz decided to shut down Shaw for the bulk of season and have him focus on getting his grades to an acceptable level. Although Shaw was not featured much, when he got touches he showed that he can be a big play guy in this offense and was surprisingly resilient for a true freshman who has not had a full season of strength and conditioning.
As the Bulls enter winter conditioning and prepare for spring ball, the rushing attack might end up looking quite different. Prior to this past season, the Bulls were the recipients of two high profile transfers. Darrell Scott transferred in from Colorado and local Tampa product Dontae Aycock transferred in from Auburn. Scott just 3 seasons ago was the number one running back recruit in the nation. Although there were concerns about his work ethic coming in, he worked hard this past season to dispel those concerns. Scott received numerous amounts of praise from the coaches as well as his teammates, both groups raving about his abilities. If Scott has truly turned the corner, Bulls fans should be extremely excited because he will be able to add dynamic playmaking dimension to the offense. Aycock played his high school football locally at Tampa Chamberlain was also a highly recruited prospect in his own right. Aycock played quarterback in high school but his skill sets are much more suited for running back. With his quarterback experience, Aycock potentially gives the Bulls a wildcat option if they so choose.
Overall, there is much to be excited for concerning the running back unit entering the spring, as the Bulls return a bevy of talent despite the departure of Moise Plancher. The Bulls will hope to improve upon a unit that ranked 70th in the country. Despite the relatively low national ranking, you could consider the rushing attack to have been a strength on offense as it was used to dictate the pace of games and open up plays in the passing game.