TAMPA — Demetris Murray became the table setter Saturday night, which is a nice step up from being window dressing.
Before Skip Holtz arrived on campus and Mike Ford and Jamar Taylor realized college life was not for them, Murray was just someone who filled space on a roster.
In his two previous seasons, the 5-foot-10, 206-pounder was a running back in name only for USF. Heading into the 2010 campaign, he had just 14 carries for 77 yards and never crossed the goal line.
His main duty last year was to keep Ford on his best behavior by reminding the troubled running back from Sarasota that if he didn’t stay in line there was a replacement.
It didn’t work. Ford never figured things out and was sent home after the season, while Murray spent most of the time on the sidelines trying to be a role model for a couple of guys who were taking away his reps.
When Holtz arrived on campus, he saw something special in the Georgia native.
He was rewarded Saturday night when Murray provided the offensive spark in the Bulls’ 24-12 win over Western Kentucky. He had 115 yards on 15 carries to break the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time.
“I thank the guys up front for giving me some space,” Murray said. “I didn’t know I had that many carries. It was unfortunate what happened to those guys (Ford and Taylor), but for me it’s a blessing to get a chance and show everybody what I can do.”
Murray showed flashes of something special against Florida, although his performance was marred by a fumble that cost the Bulls a possible touchdown.
The redshirt sophomore finally got a chance against a WKU defense that had been carved up in three straight losses, yet it held the Bulls to 37 yards in the first quarter. It had people thinking Hilltoppers head coach Willie Taggart was going to pull off another miracle like the one he helped engineer when 40-point underdog Stanford defeated USC.
Coaching in front of his hometown folks, the Manatee High legend had Vegas oddsmakers nervous. Then Murray took the field and stamped out visions of an upset before it gained any steam.
In the first half, Murray picked up 83 yards on only eight carries and had some yardage called back on a penalty. It was enough to add a few more members to the crowd that was glad to see ex-coach Jim Leavitt shown the door.
Murray could be the centerpiece of a USF offensive philosophy that is still in its infancy under Holtz. The new coach believes the Bulls’ late-season lapses the past three years were due more to their style and demeanor than Xs and Os.
If the Bulls are going to be a contender in the Big East, which is looking more like the Big Least with each passing Saturday, Holtz feels they have to be more physical in the offensive trenches.
The Bulls have an experienced offensive line that showed a nasty side against Florida and just seem to be a running back away from completing the Holtz mission.
Murray looked like that guy Saturday.