South Florida freshman running back Marlon Mack sliced through Western Carolina’s defense last Saturday in his college debut, a 275-yard performance that included touchdown runs of 62, 60, 52 and three yards. A year ago, Mack was a high school senior playing offense and defense in Sarasota, Fla. Now he leads the country in rushing and is tied for the Bulls’ single-game rushing record after last Saturday’s 36-31 win.
The hoopla surrounding Mack has reached College Park this week, where Maryland is preparing for Saturday’s matchup with the Bulls in Tampa. The Terps’ defense has a checklist of objectives for the game, two of which will be adjusting to the Florida humidity and the capabilities of Mack.
“I think he is a little bit of everything. He’s a nice-sized kid. He is six feet and 195 pounds. He’s got good acceleration,” Maryland defensive coordinator Brian Stewart said. “He’s got good short-area quickness. He has some power to him because he is a little bit of a thicker kid. I’m looking forward to watching him play after we play.”
Mack was the focal point of an offense that was reliant on the running game in its season opener. He had 24 of his team’s 33 carries and finished with 11.7 yards per carry. South Florida sophomore quarterback Mike White completed just 9 of 26 passes for 181 yards. He also had an interception and South Florida had to rally from deficits of 14-3 in the first quarter and 17-16 at halftime against Western Carolina, an FCS opponent that has lost 22 consecutive road games.
South Florida is still developing after starting as many as six freshmen and finishing 2-10 last season. Wide receiver Andre Davis, No. 2 in program history in receptions and receiving yards, is back for his senior season. So is the core of a starting offensive line that weighs an average of 308 pounds.
Mack, graded as a four-star recruit by ESPN, is the benefactor of a pro-style offense that will use two backs and two tight ends on early downs. It is a “power and straight ahead” team, Stewart said. Maryland’s defense will try to replicate last week’s showing against James Madison, when it established pressure early on and forced seven consecutive punts in the first half. The Dukes averaged just 3.7 yards per rush.
“Marlon Mack had a big game,” Stewart said. “This is going to be a challenge and we’re going to have to keep them in front of us and get them to fall down backwards.”