Any questions about the hamstring injury Bulls quarterback Quinton Flowers suffered last week were answered on the fourth play of the game Friday night vs. #22 Navy at Raymond James Stadium. Flowers took a keeper and followed a lead block from a pulling RT Marcus Norman through the middle for 63 yards and the first score of the night.
“He isn't like most people; he is like a video game, seriously,” head coach Willie Taggart said. “He is going to do whatever he can to help the team win and our guys feed off of him. When he plays well, everyone else plays well.”
The scoring wouldn’t stop for the Bulls (7-2, 4-1) in the first half as six straight possessions to open the game resulted in a touchdown. USF had three touchdown drives of under two minutes in the first half, including a one-play, 85-yard run by Marlon Mack. It would be the second-longest run from scrimmage in team history.
The offense was firing on all cylinders in the first quarter as they jumped out to 28-0 lead. They were helped by a big time defensive stand on 4th and 1 on Navy’s first possession. Linebacker Nigel Harris dropped Midshipmen QB Will Worth for a loss of two yards, USF would go onto score on a 23-yard touchdown run from running back D’Ernest Johnson, his first of two rushing scores.
The Gulf Coast Offense continues to shatter school record after school record. Tonight was the first time in school history that three rushers—Flowers (176), Mack (125) and Johnson (107)— went over 100 yards in the same game.
“I have never been a part of that, so it was pretty impressive,” Taggart said. “I really like that our guys took the challenge that we put in front of them this week. You hear all the time that Navy is a rushing team and we feel like we are a pretty good rushing team too and we challenge our guys to not let Navy come in and out rush us. Our guys took the challenge and committed to be the best football team to run the ball tonight.”
The Bulls rushed for school records with 190 yards in the first quarter, 279 yards in the first half, and 412 yards for the game.
Flowers ended the night 19-29 passing for 219 yards and two TD's to go along with 176 yards rushing and two scores on the ground.
The offense was 12-16 on third down, converting on 12 in a row to start the game. The Bulls didn’t punt until having less than three minutes left in the third quarter, where Large Adult Punter Jonathan Hernandez pinned the Midshipmen at the one-yard line.
The Bullshark defense added a new wrinkle this week that turned out to be a key factor. Instead of their traditional 4-2-5 alignment, the defense came out in a 46 or "Bear" front with five defensive linemen, three linebackers and three defensive backs.
“We watched film of teams that were successful against Navy and the one that stood out was Tulane; they played really well,” Taggart said. “They played a five-men front and that is a challenge for option football. It limits what they can do offensively and it helps our guys when we don't have to think too much.”
Another thing the defense changed was the position of defensive coordinator Raymond Woodie, who was on the sideline for the game instead of in the press box, which he hinted at doing this week.
"Probably the most important thing is the communication part of it,” Taggart said. “Players understand exactly what he wants and where he wants them at and how to play certain things, so I think it helped from that standpoint. You know, they played better, so I think it helped."
Ultimately, the defense gave up 616 yards of offense, but only 218 yards in the first half when the game was in some question. They stepped up early to put away any doubt about the final result
“We came out played with energy and got three big stops in a row,” linebacker Auggie Sanchez said.
Strong Safety Nate Godwin led the Bulls with nine tackles and Sanchez finished with eight of his own. Nine different defensive linemen had at least one tackle, led by DT Bruce Hector with six.
Navy senior QB Will Worth threw for 299 yards and rushed for another 129, including four rushing touchdowns.
CB Ronnie Hoggins returned after missing the last two weeks with a calf injury. He recorded four tackles and got an interception. It was the first turnover for the defense since the ECU game.
WR Ryeshene Bronson returned to action after missing last week with a shoulder injury but did not record any stats.
Kicker Emilio Nadelman was injured tonight and by the look he had heading into the tunnel after the game, it could be bad. Taggart said he wasn’t sure what the cause of the injury was. Nadelman’s back up Brandon Behr had his only field goal attempt blocked.
DT Danny Awoleke was dinged up on a hit that required a targeting review.