Tulsa will face one of the nation’s most productive running backs in South Florida’s Jordan Cronkrite on Friday night.
Cronkrite ranks third nationally in rushing with 151.5 yards per game for the 23rd-ranked Bulls (5-0, 1-0 American). He ran for 302 yards in a 58-42 win at UMass last week, setting American Conference and school records.
“He has outstanding speed, runs behind his pads, can run through tacklers and does a really good job of protecting the football,” South Florida coach Charlie Strong said.
Tulsa (1-4) will need to prevent the big play. Included in Cronkrite’s rushing total last week were touchdowns runs of 77, 76 and 30 yards.
“The thing about Jordan is, you watch him play and you really see that burst,” Strong said. “When he hits that burst, he takes off and it’s hard for guys to go catch him.”
Once Strong was notified that Cronkrite was approaching 300 yards, he made sure the junior had a chance to reach that total.
“Just to rush for 300 yards, that’s amazing,” Strong said. “I wanted him to get 300 yards. I left him in the game so I said, ‘Hey, I want to see him get 300 yards,’ because the way he played that night, he deserved to get it.”
The Bulls have a potent passing game, too, keyed by graduate transfer Blake Barnett. He started Alabama’s season opener two years ago before leaving for a junior college in California, then spending time as a backup at Arizona State. Barnett has passed for 1,313 yards and nine TDs with four interceptions this season. He has helped South Florida rank 20th nationally in total offense.
NOT SO EASY
Despite being unbeaten, South Florida has not been nearly as dominant as it has been the past two seasons when it won 11 and 10 games, including victories over South Carolina and Texas Tech in bowl games. South Florida has Power Five victories over Georgia Tech and Illinois this season, but neither is having a great season. The Bulls need to build momentum for two big games later this season against ranked conference opponents Cincinnati and Central Florida.
“We’re going to have to play much better,” Strong said. “We have really good teams in this conference. Everybody’s going to play us well, so we’ve got to be at our best.”
Tulsa quarterback Seth Boomer, a redshirt freshman, made his first career start last week and passed for 227 yards and a touchdown in a loss to Houston. It was the second-most yards for a Tulsa freshman in a debut, but he only completed 13 of 31 passes. Still, it was enough to impress his coach.
“I really liked his demeanor, what he was doing,” Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery said. “Obviously, he’s still young. But to throw him out against a defense like that against all kinds of different pressures and looks and coverages — I thought he handled most of that pretty well.”
Shamari Brooks and Corey Taylor II have both been effective. Taylor has rushed for 411 yards and four touchdowns in five games while Brooks has totaled 375 yards and four scores in four games. Brooks sat out with an ankle injury last week, opening the door for Taylor to run for a career-best 152 yards in a loss to Houston. Brooks’ status is uncertain for Friday. Regardless of who carries the ball, it starts up front with a veteran offensive line. Tulsa senior offensive linemen have combined to start 113 combined games — 43 for Chandler Miller, 40 for Willie Wright and 30 for Tyler Bowling.
“The strength of their offense is their offensive line,” Strong said. “And similar to us, they have (multiple) running backs that they can play,” Strong said.
ON A ROLL
Win a win Friday night, USF will set a school record for wins over a four-season stretch. The Bulls are 34-9 since 2015. They’re an AAC-best 20-5 in conference play over the last three seasons and have scored at least 30 points in 30 of their last 33 games.
Strong and Montgomery were familiar with each other before they reached their current stops. Strong was the head coach at Texas while Montgomery was offensive coordinator at Baylor in 2014.
AP Sports Writer Fred Goodall in Tampa contributed to this report.
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