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Box Score Takeaways: USF Football vs. Cincinnati

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A game with all the makings of a shootout early on was turned around by a more aggressive Bulls defense, combined with a cruising offense, to put down Cincinnati in the second half.

NCAA Football: South Florida at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Putting the Florida State debacle in the rear view mirror, South Florida was able to start conference play on the right foot, trouncing Cincinnati 45-20 in Nippert Stadium on Saturday.

After a back and forth first half where USF entered the locker rooms with a slim 24-20 lead, the Bulls were able to take advantage of several Cincinnati miscues to shut out the Bearcats in the second half and seal their first conference victory of the season.

Let’s look at what they did.

Bullsharks Turn Game Over In Second Half

Coming off one of the worst defensive performances in program history against FSU, there were legit concerns over Raymond Woodie’s unit and the barrage of missed tackles and lack of pressure up front. These concerns intensified in the first half against Cincinnati as the defense gave up 272 yards on 6.5 yards per play, facing backup quarterback Ross Trail no less.

Our friend Bradley Baldus on Twitter perfectly summed up the Bullsharks’ first-half efforts:

But then the second half happened, and the Bullsharks that we got to know towards the end of the 2015 campaign re-appeared.

The defense buzzsawed Tommy Tuberville’s offense, limiting the unit to only twenty rushing yards in the second half. They forced three turnovers in the third quarter, two of which resulted in Bulls touchdowns.

“I thought they were more aggressive in the second half,” Willie Taggart said after the game. “They were ball hawks in the secondary.

That boost in aggressiveness definitely made the difference in the second half. By the time Gunner Kiel was summoned to replace the struggling Trail, the damage had already been done. Cincinnati’s drive chart in the third quarter tells the entire story of how fortunes went for the Bearcats:

  • Punt
  • Interception
  • Fumble
  • Interception (returned for touchdown)
  • Missed field goal

Balanced Attack on Offense

Despite gaining a season-low 5.6 yards per play, it was business as usual for the Gulf Coast offense. The unit was able to consistently set the pace and found the end zone in all four quarters of the game without turning the ball over once.

Taggart’s offense found a near perfect yardage balance, finishing the night with 226 yards on the ground and 228 through the air. Nine different receivers caught passes.

That effort came by way of Quinton Flowers, who shook off a miserable Florida State performance with 196 yards through the air, 88 yards on the ground, a 62% passing percentage, and two touchdowns. Other than a couple missed passes to an open Ryeshene Bronson in the third quarter, it was another solid outing for the team captain. Brett Kean threw for 32 yards on USF’s final drive, which only ended because the clock ran out.

Also Marlon Mack is now officially the GOAT and will be treated as such:

Punting Is Winning

Hey, remember after game one when there was concern and terror over USF’s special teams? The Bulls’ Large Adult Punter, Jonathan Hernandez, continues to be a secret weapon for this team whenever an offensive drive stalls out. Hernandez only averaged 39.7 yards per punt on Saturday, but he dropped three of his punts inside the Bearcats’ 10-yard line. The Bulls continue to win the average field position battle over their opponents early on, which in turn gives their defense more room to work with (if they’re making tackles).

End Game

After a mediocre start, the defense was able to correct mistakes that were made in the first half. They quickly put down the Cincinnati offense through turnovers that effectively sealed the win.

Critically, Taggart’s guys were able to not let the Florida State thrashing linger over their heads as they entered conference play, which is a huge step for a team still establishing themselves as winners. Now it’s homecoming time as the Bulls welcome Scottie Montgomery’s East Carolina squad for a noon conference showdown.