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USF's Murray likely to carry more of load vs. Syracuse

TAMPA - University of South Florida football coach Skip Holtz knows every running back wants to be the team's go-to guy, the one who carries the ball 25 times a game with an opportunity to put up gaudy numbers. As a competitor, Demetris Murray would jump at the chance to do just that. What makes the Bulls junior running back stand out to Holtz, though, is the team-first approach he takes to the position, doing what's asked of him without fussing about his workload. "Everybody on the team has a certain role, no matter if it's the scout team, starter, second team, whatever it is," Murray said. "Whatever you can do to help the team win, that's the most important thing for me. Whenever my number's called I just try to go in and give my team a spark, go here and there and just do whatever I have to do to try and help us win." There's a good chance Murray's number will be called a little more often tonight against Syrcause (8 p.m., ESPN2).
Junior Darrell Scott, the team's leading rusher this season with 611 yards, is still recovering from a concussion and left wrist injury sustained during last week's loss at Rutgers. Scott made the trip with the team, but it's unknown just how much – if at all – he'll be on the field. But there are no reservations about leaning more on Murray, who has teamed this season with Scott to give USF a solid 1-2 punch. Murray, who has averaged 10 carries per game, ranks third on the team with 346 rushing yards and is tied with Scott with a team-best five rushing touchdowns. "He does a lot. He's there for us," quarterback B.J. Daniels said. "He contributed last year and is bringing a lot more to the table this year. He's definitely a guy we can count on." At 6-foot and 210 pounds, Murray isn't the biggest or the quickest back on the roster, but Holtz didn't hesitate to call him the "best all-round back" in the stable. Murray's skill set combined with his knowledge of the game make him a dependable option in every situation. "Sometimes you underestimate just being a good football player. That's what he is," offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said. "He's very smart. He's very good in the passing game because of what it takes protection-wise. He has good hands, for the most part, out of the backfield, He's a good communicator within him and the offensive line. "As a first and second down back, he does a good job, obviously. Physically he's not the biggest back we have, but he can be productive in the first and second downs and his third-down role has really been vital. I think we're giving up the second fewest sacks in the league, and the back and the protection is a very important part of it and he's a big piece in that." Murray also has been a key piece in the locker room. He was selected by his teammates to be a part of the Bulls leadership council, a collection of underclassmen and veterans. Holtz thought Murray was an ideal selection because of how hard he works and the respect he commands from his peers. The role was undoubtedly outside of the comfort zone for Murray, who is admittedly shy, even around his teammates. He'd always preferred to let his on-field work do the talking, but realized "sometimes you've got to say what you've got to say to help bring guys along. You can't just lead by example and that's it." USF heads into tonight's matchup at the Carrier Dome hoping to put an end to the worst losing streak in program history. Each of the past three losses in the four-game skid – to Connecticut, Cincinnati and Rutgers – was by six points or fewer, and the Bulls desperately need a reversal of fortune to have any hope of reaching a postseason bowl game for a seventh consecutive season. "It's a bad thing to lose, and to lose close games like that, especially with the team that we have and the talent that we have across the board, it's tough," said Murray, who is 35 rushing yards shy of becoming the 13th player in program history to reach 1,000 for his career. "But this is our family, this is our group of brothers and this is all we've got and we've just got to keep that (positive) mind instead of pulling away and pointing fingers, coming together and trying to solve the problem as one."

aadkins@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7616

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