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Chuck Landon: Tiny RB presents sizeable problem

December 20, 2018

TAMPA, Fla. — It isn’t a misprint.

South Florida’s true freshman phenom running back Johnny Ford actually stands only 5-foot-5 and weighs just 168 pounds.

Yet

• He has been the Bulls’ leading rushers in four of USF’s last six games.

• He is South Florida’s second-leading rusher with 737 yards and eight touchdowns.

• He ranks No. 10 in FBS with a 7.1 yards per carry average.

That means this little guy could be a very big problem for Marshall University when the Thundering Herd takes on South Florida at 8 p.m. Thursday in the Gasparilla Bowl here in Raymond James Stadium.

“It doesn’t matter if he was 6-4, 255 pounds,” said senior linebacker Frankie Hernandez, “I’ve got to tackle him and get after that ball anyways.”

True.

But Ford does present an unusual challenge.

“The way I see it is it’s not the size of the dog,” said senior linebacker Chase Hancock, “it’s the size of the heart in the dog. I am sure people have said the same thing about me - oh, he doesn’t look like a linebacker. But it’s different out there when you start playing. Size doesn’t matter.

“He’s a guy. Our coaches were talking about how we’d seen great backs - Devin Singletary (Florida Atlantic), Ito Smith (Southern Miss) - those are some of the guys I’ve seen. He’s in that category with them. So, he’s a great back. He’s really strong. He’ll lose ground to gain ground.

“He’s exceptionally quick, absolutely. He has breakaway speed. He is quick on quick. You see that on film. So, it’s going to be a great challenge for us.”

Heck, it’s going to be a challenge just to find the miniscule Ford among all the hulking offensive and defensive linemen.

“That’s why it’s important that everybody is in their gaps and we’re doing our jobs,” said Hancock. “It becomes a problem when people try to do too much, I feel like.”

Perhaps, the most interesting contrast is between the 5-5, 168-pound Ford and star Marshall defensive lineman Ryan Bee, who is 6-7 and 280 pounds.

“Yeah, No. 20,” said Bee. “He is short, but he’s a shifty, quick guy. He will lose 10 yards to gain 20. He’s short, but he makes up for it with his speed.”

Then, Bee made an interesting comparison.

“I guess I would compare him to Simino Walden on our team,” said Bee, referring to Marshall’s 5-8, 161-pound redshirt sophomore wide receiver. “Looking at Simino, you wouldn’t think much. But watching him in practice, his breakaway speed is insane. So, I can imagine what this guy is going to look like. Maybe we can get Simino back there running some scout team this week.”

Maybe that happened, maybe it didn’t.

Either way, Bee is still a foot taller than the gnat who is trying to sting him.

“That would be a positive for him,” said Bee. “Their offensive line is all big guys. He could get lost in the mess back there and, then, spin out all of a sudden.”

Yet, Hancock remains optimistic.

“As a defense,” he said, “if everybody is focused and locked in and in their gaps and everybody is doing what they’re supposed to be doing, we will handle him very well.”

I have the utmost respect for Hancock, which makes it very difficult to pick against him. So, I won’t.

Marshall will win, 27-24.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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