Bulls' o-line has solidified, so has run game
They endured a grueling preseason of mixing and matching, coupled with trial and error. A pulling guard one day was pulling center duty the next.
Amid this mass of moving parts was first-year Bulls offensive line coach Matt Mattox, repeatedly swapping and shuffling his behemoths in search of the right combination.
"We want the best five up there," offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said in the preseason's early stage. "And however those guys have got to fit or however those guys have got to play, we're willing to do it and they are as well."
The experimenting seeped into the regular season, with Mattox making some 11th-hour adjustments. But now, his depth chart seems solid.
Not coincidentally, so does the Bulls' run game.
"We've got a pretty good thing going right now," said RG Billy Atterbury, a converted tackle. "And whatever I can do to help them out, I'm always down for that."
For three games now, the 18th-ranked Bulls (5-0) have rolled out a starting offensive front of LT Eric Mayes, LG Jeremi Hall, C Cameron Ruff, Atterbury and RT Marcus Norman. The Bulls have totaled 1,078 rushing yards in those three contests.
That's more than nine American Athletic Conference teams have totaled this season.
"Obviously you want to do whatever you can to help the team out, and you do whatever you can to get on the field," said Atterbury, who before this season hadn't started at guard since the spring game of his freshman year at Countryside High. "So at the end of the day, whatever works works."
The current lineup was devised after USF struggled in the run game (49 carries, 153 yards) in its 31-17 victory against Division I-AA Stony Brook. After starting the first two games at right guard, Ruff -- last year's starting center -- moved back to his original position in place of junior Michael Galati.
Atterbury, a backup entering the season, replaced Ruff at right guard.
"I didn't mind playing right guard, but I was more comfortable being back at center," Ruff said.
"They decided this would be the best (lineup) going into the season. They were still trying to find those moving parts and find those solid five offensive linemen that they wanted. ... Now I'm back at center, we have some (things) rolling. I feel like this is the position I'm staying at and I'm happy about it."
If the Bulls can remain relatively near their recent pace, they could set a team season rushing record for the third consecutive year. With a minimum seven games remaining, they already have 1,546 yards, more than 40 percent of the record total they ran for last season (3,709).
Something to push -- and pull -- for.
"It's a lot of fun, getting out there in space," Atterbury said of the pulling-guard role. "It's definitely a lot more technical. You don't want to mess up on the pull, (be) the guy that trips in the backfield or something like that. But I'm enjoying the move, it's a lot of fun."
Starts up front
Since solidifying its starting offensive line (in the last three games), USF's rushing numbers have noticeably improved.
1st 2 games Last 3 games
Carries 123 179
Yards 468 1,078
Avg. 3.8 6.0
TDs 6 11
100-yd rushers 0 6