TAMPA — USF's defense was no match for Miami's balance in the backfield.
The 19th-ranked Hurricanes ended their regular season relying on a trio of talented running backs, including junior Damien Berry (114 rushing yards), in a 31-10 victory over USF on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.
Junior Graig Cooper added 83 yards on 16 carries and senior Javarris James had two touchdowns and 37 yards as the Hurricanes churned out 240 yards on a USF defense that was giving up less than 128 rushing yards per game this season.
"I think as a group those running backs did a good job," Miami coach Randy Shannon said. "I thought Damien Berry came back as always. Cooper and Javarris set the standard, and Damien comes in almost like an off-set deal. We're going to use Damien because he's a vital part of the offense."
Berry, who switched from safety last season, averaged 9.5 yards on 12 carries, including a couple of big 19-yard runs.
Miami ran for 127 yards in the first half. James' scores came on consecutive drives at the end of the first and the beginning of the second quarter as the Hurricanes took a 21-3 halftime lead.
"Our backfield is crucial," Berry said. "I think we're dangerous. If we want to run, we can run. As we establish our running game, it opens up the pass, and we're going to feed off each other."
As the Bulls seemed to be edging back in the second half, cutting the lead to 21-10, Miami struggled to rekindle its running game. That was until the last drive of the third quarter.
With 2:15 on the clock and Miami at its 48-yard line, quarterback Jacory Harris handed off on the first play to Berry, who countered left and burst through the right side of USF's line, following blockers for a gain of 19.
On the next play, Harris used a play-action fake to Berry and hit senior tight end Dedrick Epps for a 33-yard touchdown to extend Miami's lead to 28-10. Cooper had 56 total yards on the following drive, which ended in a field goal.
"If they were going to play eight in the box, we had to throw it. If they had seven in the box, we were going to run it," Shannon said. "Late in the game, they started putting eight in the box, and that opened up some passing situations."
USF defensive coordinator Joe Tresey said he anticipated seeing more passing and that UM's depth at running back was probably the best he saw all season.
"We were not very physical, especially in situations where we needed to be," he said. "They were pretty balanced but were more of a pass team in the last four or five games, so obviously they felt they could come out and establish the run."