The South Florida Bulls pulled away from East Carolina for a 38-22 victory on Homecoming at Raymond James Stadium, but not without some controversy.
With only 16 seconds left in the game, head coach Willie Taggart chose to throw the ball deep three times to try to score more points. Flowers completed a pass to D’Ernest Johnson for a touchdown, but the play was called back by offensive pass interference. The Bulls tried again after the penalty with only one second left in the game, and only a bad pass by Flowers prevented a Bulls score. The postgame handshake between Taggart and Pirates coach Scottie Montgomery was very brief, and Taggart was still a bit worked up in his postgame press conference.
“That’s our job on offense, to score points,” Taggart said when asked about the ending. “We’re not taking a knee, we want to score. We want to be an explosive offense. When we have the ball, we want to score.”
The Pirates (2-4, 0-2 American) started the game with a very different game plan than what we’ve seen from them this year. ECU ran the ball eight times before throwing their first pass on their opening drive. On the first play from scrimmage, running back/Wildcat QB James Summers took the handoff 21 yards, and shades of FSU popped up. The Pirates settled for a 40-yard Davis Plowman field goal to take an early 3-0 lead.
On their first drive alone, the Pirates rushed for more yards (53) than they did during the entire game vs UCF (33) last week. ECU finished with 168 yards on 35 carries. Summers finished with 116 yards on the ground.
Penalties were a huge problem all day for the Bulls. They committed nine of them for 101 yards, including one that took a touchdown off the board. It started on USF’s first possession, when a 4th and 1 conversion was negated by a holding penalty by right tackles Marcus Norman, starting in place of the injured Billy Atterbury.
“Very concerning. Very concerning. It was a sloppy game, especially offensively,” Taggart said. “We were in the red zone, get those penalties that got us behind the sticks. We were just sloppy all over. We have to get those corrected if we want to be the team we say we want to be, but it was sloppy all over.”
Other than the penalties, USF’s offense was sharp again. Quinton Flowers finished 21-for 29 for 250 yards and three touchdowns (two to Johnson). He also rushed for 115 yards, his fourth career 100-yard rushing game.
Running back Marlon Mack finished with 152 yards rushing, his 16th career 100-yard game. He added two more rushing touchdowns to pass former Bulls great Andre Hall (24) and pull into a tie with former quarterback B.J. Daniels with 25 career scores on the ground.
It was the seventh time in program history that two players have rushed for over 100 yards in the same game, and the first since last year’s Miami Beach Bowl when Mack and Flowers accomplished the feat. USF ran for 306 total yards, going over 200 for an FBS-leading 11th straight game.
Wide receiver Rodney Adams had a great day as well, with seven catches for 113 yards. He also scored a huge 62-yard touchdown to extend USF’s lead back to 31-22 after the Pirates had scored 16 unanswered points.
Adams shook off an early hit by East Carolina defensive back Colby Gore, who was ejected for targeting.
“That’s number one. I had to make sure I was still alive,” Adams joked.
East Carolina quarterback Philip Nelson, who left last week’s game against UCF with a concussion started the game but was ineffective, completing only 12 of 23 passes for 88 yards. He was again forced out of the game by an Auggie Sanchez hit, bringing on backup Gardner Minshew II.
Minshew led the Pirates to three straight scoring drives in the second half to cut a 24-6 USF lead to 24-22 midway through the fourth quarter. He completed 21 of 33 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown, but Nigel Harris intercepted him late in the fourth quarter, leading to a touchdown that clinched the game. Zay Jones added 18 more catches to his FBS-leading total for 145 yards and a touchdown.
CB Ronnie Hoggins did not play in the second half. Taggart said Hoggins had a calf injury but wasn’t too worried about it. After filling in for Deatrick Nichols last week following his injury, Johnny Ward took over for Hoggins and performed well.
“I thought the old man did great,” Taggart said. “We call Johnny the old man of the group because he’s the oldest, and I thought he did great. That’s two weeks in a row where he’s come in and made plays for us. I love Johnny to death.”
The Bulls host UConn next Saturday at 7pm at Raymond James Stadium.