After a huge second-half defensive performance by the South Florida Bulls in a 45-20 win over Cincinnati, the question everyone had for Willie Taggart after the game was, “What did you say to your defense at halftime?”
“I didn’t say anything to them!” said Taggart. “Coach Woodie talked to them. Whatever he said to them, it worked.”
The Bullshark defense collected three turnovers on consecutive possessions in the the third quarter. After halftime, they shut the Bearcats out, held them to 20 yards rushing, and scored their first touchdown of the season on an 11-yard interception return by Johnny Ward.
“I thought they were more aggressive in the second half,” added Taggart. “They were ball hawks in the secondary.
“I was really excited with the enthusiasm those guys were playing with and it paid off for us.”
As usual, USF’s offense did their part. Quinton Flowers turned in another turnover-free performance, and Marlon Mack broke Andre Hall’s career rushing record with 118 yards on 20 carries. He set the record on a weaving 49-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that concluded the scoring.
“That was a pretty impressive run,” said Taggart. “He used the L1 button on that one. L1 button, made the guy miss, and took it to the house.”
“It was a great accomplishment,” added Mack, who now has 2,755 career rushing yards. “I give a shoutout to my O-linemen and thank them for letting me break this record today.”
The Bulls struggled early on. Cincinnati was motivated and ready to play after last year’s 65-27 humiliation, and USF’s defense was not up to the task in the first half. Tion Green ran for 94 yards on only 10 carries in the first half, while Ross Trail completed 15 of 22 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown. USF kept pace thanks to touchdowns from Mack, Flowers, and D’Ernest Johnson, but only led 24-20 at the break.
The third quarter turned the game around. Ronnie Hoggins jumped an out route and intercepted a poorly-thrown pass from Trail. Five plays later, Flowers bounced a run outside on 3rd and 2 and eluded defenders on his way to a 19-yard touchdown to make the score 31-20.
Jaymon Thomas ended the next drive with a great hustle play, stripping Nate Cole of the ball after Cole had beaten him on a short route and turned upfield. On the following series, Trail’s pass skipped off his receiver’s hands and into Ward’s, who took it to the end zone for a 38-20 USF lead.
That was Trail’s last play of the evening. Cincinnati put Gunner Kiel into the game to try and rally the offense, but he was very ineffective. He completed only 3 of 11 passes, missing several throws badly and getting into an argument with coach Tommy Tuberville when he elected to send his embattled kicking unit out for a 48-yard field goal attempt early in the fourth quarter. (The kick was no good.)
With the victory, the Bulls moved to 4-1 on the season and 1-0 in conference play. Importantly, they were able to put last week’s loss to Florida State behind them.
“That was good for our guys, after a loss, to bounce back and not let that loss faze you... (and) make us lose another one this week,” said Taggart. “I was really impressed with the way our guys practiced this week and then how they came out today. That was huge for us.”
USF’s next game is against East Carolina next Saturday at noon as the Bulls celebrate Homecoming and play SuperBull XX.