Throughout the 2014 season, much attention was payed to the three man quarterback roulette played out between Mike White, Quinton Flowers and Steven Bench towards the end of the regular season as the source of South Florida’s struggles on offense. But ultimately fronting the lack of cohesiveness and woes for the Bulls was the offensive line, a snake bitten unit that statistically proved to be one of the worst in the entire nation. Now with only two returning starters, a new coach and a new scheme, questions on if the line can provide better production and protection in 2015 remain.
As part of the massive coaching overhaul during the offseason, Willie Taggart brought in former Purdue head coach Danny Hope to oversee an offensive line schematically transitioning into a more up tempo style of offense. It is hoped that the experience of the veteran coach can help a relatively inexperienced unit heading into the fall. Personnel wise, the Bulls lose starters Darrell Williams (G), Quinterrius Eatmon (T) and Washington Redskins seventh round pick Austin Reiter (C), all of whom started all twelve games last season. Returning to the fold are guards Brynjar Gudmundsson and Thor Jozwiak, both of whom combined for 20 starts in 2014. For now, sophomore center Cameron Ruff, senior tackle Mak Djulbegovic and junior tackle Kofi Amichia are listed as their fellow starters.
The most notable additions to the line during the offseason were transfer tackles Reilly Gibbons (Stanford) and Glen Bethel (Arizona Western CC). A local product of St. Pete Catholic High School, Gibbons was a highly sought after 4-star prospect in the 2014 recruiting class who gave USF fans good news when announcing his transfer to the hometown school after a short stint in Palo Alto. Even better news came when he was recently won his appeal with the NCAA to become eligible to play in 2015. Similarly, Bethel adds to the long list of Floridian talent Coach Taggart has been able to pull to his program. The Hialeah, FL native helped Arizona Western average 241.2 rushing yards and 423.1 total yards per game. Both transfers are expected to become heavy contenders for starting spots immediately once fall camp begins.
Entering the fall, South Florida needs better production from up front in 2015 for their shiny new spread offense to even have a chance at success. According to advanced offensive line statistics from Football Outsiders, USF proved to be one of the least effective units in the entire nation, particularly in providing enough run blocking to move the chains. In Standard Yards Line Per Carry, or yards per carry on standard downs (1st down, 2nd and 7 or fewer, 3rd and 4 or fewer, 4th and 4 or fewer), the Bulls only averaged 2.42 yards per carry, ranking them 120th in the country. On rushes on standard passing downs, USF only averaged 2.13 ypc, netting them 126th in the nation. Finally, when it came to Power Success Rate, or ability to run in a 3rd/4th and 2 or less situation and achieve a 1st down and/or touchdown, the Bulls posted a dismal 50% success rate, landing them second to last in the nation only behind Miami University. Hope’s offensive line in 2015 must give their running backs and slot receivers a chance to gain more yards on standard downs or it will be more of the same once the season begins when they host Florida A&M.