USF Position Previews: Running Backs

With USF's season on the horizon, we look to breakdown the strengths, weaknesses, and expectations of each position. This time, we look at the three headed rushing attack for the Bulls.

In a season of setbacks and disappointments for South Florida, an unexpected bright spot for USF’s running attack emerged in the form of the freshman phenom from Sarasota, Marlon Mack. Mack’s breakout season earned him the honor of being named AAC Rookie of the Year and landed him a spot on the 2015 Maxwell Award watch list. Now heading into a new campaign, the three headed rushing attack of Mack, Darius Tice and D’Ernest Johnson will look to fully utilize the Bulls’ new spread attack to further ignite the offense in 2015.

The formula for success for USF’s offense last season was simple. The more the ball was fed to Marlon Mack, the higher chance the Bulls had at victory. The Bulls would finish 4-1 in contests where Mack carried the ball at least 17 times, and with good reason. The freshman immediately burst onto the scene from his initial snap, rushing for a school record 275 yards in the opening game against Western Carolina, serving as a precursor of what was to come later on in the season. The running back would have three more games amounting 100+ yards, ultimately racking up 1,042 yards on 202 carries and 9 touchdowns on the year. With all of his talent and potential for improvement in the coming years, he isn’t alone in the run game.

Rounding out what people are calling a three headed monster of an attack are sophomore D’Ernest Johnson and junior Darius Tice. Along with Mack, Johnson saw playing time in all twelve of USF’s contests in 2014. While not receiving many carries, Johnson showed spurts of power and ability to be a reliable 3rd down option throughout the entire season. His most notable performance came in a rainy home matchup with Uconn, where his 41 yards were able to extend drives, drain the clock and ultimately put the Huskies away. Rounding out the attack is Tice, who impressed in spring practices to the point where Coach Willie Taggart dubbed him the spring “MVP”. Tice saw limited playing time in 2014 mainly because of a knee injury, but will be ready to compete and utilize his 206 pound frame to slash through opposing defenses this upcoming season.

As mentioned in the previous two position previews, the up tempo spread offense that South Florida will be switching to will create numerous opportunities to utilize the three running backs. Whether through read options, quick handoffs, or screens that will leave them open in the flat, the success of Mack, Johnson and Tice in not only finding open lanes, but breaking tackles to move the chains will be vital to the Bulls success when they open against Florida A&M on September 5th.

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