SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Two games after making a change at quarterback, the Bulls may have found themselves a new primary ball carrier as well.
Junior Mike Ford, re-establishing himself after being suspended from the first two games for an unspecified violation of team rules, had two key touchdowns and rushed for a game-high 68 yards on 13 carries in Saturday's 34-20 victory over Syracuse.
"Mike's back," quarterback B.J. Daniels said with a smile. "He's a fiery guy, and he really helped us out a lot."
Ford, who had totaled 43 yards in his first two games this season, got USF on the scoreboard in the first quarter with a hard-earned 26-yard touchdown run. He added a 21-yard gain in the third quarter and made his biggest run on a fourth-and-1 call from the Syracuse 5, punching in for another score that gave USF a 27-13 lead.
"We need to get Mike going more, need to run him more, need to get the ball in his hands," coach Jim Leavitt said. "He's going to be real important for us."
Ford, who was not available for comment after the game, was limited by an ankle injury last season, but on Saturday he showed more of the form he had as a freshman in 2007, when he rushed for 134 yards on 28 carries and two scores in a win at Syracuse.
Ford's success Saturday came as senior Mo Plancher, the starting running back, struggled for the third game in a row (nine carries for 19 yards), including a fumble deep in USF territory. Since rushing for 115 yards in a win at Western Kentucky, Plancher hasn't had so much as 20 yards in any of the last three games, totaling 46 yards on 21 carries without a touchdown.
Plancher uncharacteristically fumbled late in the first half on the USF 14-yard line, setting up Syracuse for a touchdown 29 seconds before halftime to cut the Bulls' lead to 14-13.
The Bulls were missing two other running backs, as freshman Lindsey Lamar (hip) and junior Aston Samuels (abdomen) didn't make the trip due to injuries.
Offensive coordinator Mike Canales said Ford's improved play this season also has to do with him getting in better shape and dropping some weight off his frame.
"He's lighter, and I think he's got the right mind-set right now. He understands how we're going to utilize him," Canales said. "He's got to be big for what we do. We've got to be able to use Mike Ford and Mo Plancher as a big part of our offense."