Ground games on display in St. Pete

AP Photo/John Raoux

Latavius Murray led Conference USA with 103.5 rush yards per game this season and has scored at least one rushing touchdown in eight straight games.The Ball State Cardinals take on the UCF Knights in the fifth annual Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg on Friday night (7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN). It will be the fourth all-time meeting between schools (Ball State leads 2-1) and the first since a come-from-behind win by the Cardinals in 2004.

UCF will be making its fifth bowl appearance in program history (1-3) and its second trip to the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s bowl. The Knights fell to Rutgers in the 2009 Beef ‘O’Brady’s Bowl and earned the school’s only bowl win the following season in the 2010 Liberty Bowl against Georgia. The win over the Bulldogs was also its last bowl appearance.

This season, UCF went 9-4 and won its fourth C-USA East Division title since joining the league in 2004. The nine wins give the UCF senior class 33 for their careers (33-19), tied for the most in school history. A win Friday would give them one more than the 2010 class that went 33-20.

On the other sideline, Ball State is still searching for its first bowl win, having lost each of its five previous bowl appearances. The five straight losses are tied for the third-longest active bowl losing streak, trailing only Georgia Tech (7) and Northwestern (9).

Despite the bowl struggles, Ball State comes into the game having won six straight to end the regular season and its three losses in 2012 came against teams that are a combined 33-5 (Clemson, Kent State and Northern Illinois).

Friday’s matchup at Tropicana Field will be highlighted by a pair of running backs: Ball State’s Jahwan Edwards and UCF’s Latavius Murray. Each player is averaging over 100 rush yards per game, making this contest one of just six bowls with opposing backs averaging more than 100 yards per game this season.

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Edwards ranks fifth in the MAC in rush yards per game in 2012 (110.1) and has rushed for at least 100 yards in five of his past six games. In his only sub-100 yard game during the stretch, Edwards rushed for 98 yards and tied his career high with three touchdowns in a 31-24 win over Miami (OH) on November 23.

For the Knights, Murray has been equally effective of late. Along with his C-USA-high 103.5 rush yards per game, he has rushed for at least one score in each of his past eight games. Since October 13, only Louisiana Tech RB Kenneth Dixon (19) and Kansas State QB Collin Klein (15) have scored more touchdowns on the ground than Murray (13).

Elsewhere for UCF, Quincy McDuffie has provided a spark in the return game. McDuffie is tied for second in the FBS with three kickoff return touchdowns and leads all FBS players with 34.2 yards per kickoff return this season.

If McDuffie can pad those numbers Friday, he will have to do it against a stout kickoff return coverage unit. Ball State has allowed only one kickoff return for touchdown the past five seasons.