USF interim play-caller says to expect some wrinkles

Justin Burke, a Charlie Strong assistant since 2011, will coordinate the offense from the press box in Thursday's Gasparilla Bowl
USF tight ends/special teams coach Justin Burke played for five offensive coordinators in a college career that included stops at N.C. State and Louisville. [JOEY KNIGHT | Times]
USF tight ends/special teams coach Justin Burke played for five offensive coordinators in a college career that included stops at N.C. State and Louisville. [JOEY KNIGHT | Times]
Published Dec. 19, 2018|Updated Dec. 19, 2018

TAMPA — Speaking publicly for the first time since being confirmed as USF's interim play-caller, Bulls tight ends/special teams coach Justin Burke said Tuesday that fans will see a few offensive tweaks in the Gasparilla Bowl.

"It's a bowl game, you're gonna do that no matter what," said Burke, who will call Thursday night's game from the press box, where he has been situated all season.

"You get an extra 15 practices, so there's wrinkles, there are things. But in the end, we have a great offense that has been really successful here and in other places, and our guys have really responded to that offense."

A former quarterback at North Carolina State and Louisville, Burke played for a total of four head coaches and five coordinators in a career stretching from 2006-10. Among them: former Bears coach Marc Trestman, current Division I-A coaches Matt Wells (Texas Tech) and Jeff Brohm (Purdue), and current Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh.

He appeared in eight games as a fifth-year senior in 2010 (Strong's first at Louisville), finishing 75-for-129 for 790 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. The Cardinals finished 7-6.

"I love the man. He changed my life," Burke said of Strong. "I was a transfer and played football and didn't like it really 'til my senior year in college. He just brought that passion, and you really feed off of that.

"You really feel like he cares about you. I have a unique perspective in that I was a player and now I coach for him, so I know what these guys are getting with Coach Strong. That's why I've stayed with him."

His task Thursday in his play-calling debut is tricky. The status of QB Blake Barnett (shoulder/ankle) remains iffy at best, and the Bulls — who have averaged fewer than 20 points during their five-game losing streak — will be facing the nation's ninth-ranked run defense (103.9 ypg).

Related: A degree in determination for Marshall's Frankie Hernandez

Success might hinge on giving the Herd some looks they haven't seen on tape.

"Hopefully we'll see a little trickery," WR Randall St. Felix said. "We're gonna have to wait 'til game day to find out."

TICKET UPDATE: USF confirmed the school has sold out its allotment of roughly 6,400 bowl-game tickets, with fewer than 100 student tickets remaining as of Tuesday evening. A Marshall spokesperson confirmed the school has sold 2,500 of its allotted 6,000.

Additionally, the bowl has distributed a number of tickets to various youth and community organizations throughout the bay area, making a crowd of 25-30,0000 plausible. The only potential detriment is weather; Thursday's forecast calls for severe thunderstorms during the day, with wind and lingering showers by the 8 p.m. kickoff.

ODDS AND ENDS: Thursday's game will be a de facto Bulls home contest in every way. USF officially will be the home team, wearing its green jerseys and occupying the west (home) side of Raymond James Stadium. … With Burke focusing on offensive play-calling, his normal duties (tight ends, special teams) are being handled collectively by the staff. "We're meeting together, installing together, making sure everybody hears the same voice," he said.