Let’s get right to the emojis that sum up USF’s 35-27 over SMU Saturday night.
The Bulls came into the game with the most explosive offense in FBS, according to Bill Connelly’s data. They certainly didn’t hurt that reputation with a trio of one-play scoring drives, including the second touchdown they’ve scored this season on their first play from scrimmage. USF now has nine touchdown drives this season that have lasted only one play. To prove how far the team has come over the past four years, USF only scored a total of 11 offensive touchdowns in 2013.
USF needed to be explosive on offense, because SMU did their best to not let Quinton Flowers beat them. They kept a spy on him all night to make sure he didn’t improvise his way into big running plays, and for the most part it worked.
The Mustangs couldn’t hold him down all night, though. Flowers had two big second-half runs, including a serpentine 35-yard scramble early in the fourth quarter that helped set up D’Ernest Johnson’s touchdown run on the next play. (In the press box, Flowers’ run was described as “Quinton Flowers... with... a carry...” and then nothing else.) That’s how good Flowers is. Even with SMU selling out to stop him running the ball, he still got 142 yards on 19 carries.
When you watch a football team play closely enough, you start to recognize plays as they’re being run. Marlon Mack’s 60-yard touchdown run in the first quarter was remarkably similar to the 52-yard touchdown he scored against Syracuse. Both were on fourth and 1, a spot where USF goes for it nearly every time nowadays. On both runs, the Bulls blocked right while Mack ran counter action to the left. He easily got to the outside both times and outraced the defense to the end zone. Maybe they didn’t call the same play both times, but it sure looked like it.
A couple weeks ago we used the “3” emoji to talk about USF’s incredible success on third down against Navy. That was not the case against SMU. The Mustangs really gave the Bulls trouble on the edges and at the line of scrimmage. They stretched out plays toward the sideline and tackled well in space. Their defensive line got penetration and broke up read plays before Flowers had time to make his decision. They were aggressive towards USF’s screen game, making them give most of it up early on. All that led to the Bulls being only 2 for 12 on third down, with an average length of 7.83 yards to convert. USF could not get many sustained drives going because SMU was able to take away most of the plays USF uses to keep their offense on schedule.
It was pretty cold, all right, but not so much that USF couldn’t deal with it. The only hint you had of the weather was when Willie Taggart was interviewed going off the field at halftime. He didn’t look or sound like himself after being out there in only a hoodie for two hours. Those heaters on the sideline were a long way from him.
Because I’ve always wondered, I asked if USF has any heavy winter gear in the equipment room and found out they don’t. They do have thermal base layers, though. I own some Under Armour thermals and I can tell you they work really well. Still, as long as we’re going to be in a league with UConn and Temple and Cincinnati and Navy, couldn’t Under Armour spring for some parkas and full-length hooded coats?
This is obviously D’Ernest’s... whatever the hell that was late in the fourth quarter.
I need to explain what I think the difference is between a good trick play and a bad trick play, and why I liked the play call here. NO ONE would have expected D’Ernest to throw that ball. We were down on the sidelines by that point in the game, standing right by D’Ernest’s intended receiver. USF had single coverage down the field if he had been able to get the throw off. The play could have easily worked for a back-breaking touchdown that we’d be watching on replays for years and years.
Instead, it nearly turned into the worst USF play since Voodoo 5. (That was a bad trick play because the personnel made it extremely obvious that a gadget had been called.) It’s great that players like D’Ernest and Mack and Flowers and Rodney Adams put so much effort into everything, and they try to make great things happen every time they have the ball. Sometimes, though, they need to cut their losses. Flowers’ interception was unlucky, but also the result of him doing a little too much.
USF equalled or broke another batch of individual and team records Saturday night. Among them:
- Most points scored in a season (475 and counting)
- Most total offense by a player in season (Flowers now has 3672 combined yards rushing and passing)
- Most touchdown passes by a player in a season (Flowers tied his own record with 22)
- Most rushing touchdowns by a player in a season (Flowers had already tied Andre Hall’s record of 13; Mack joined him Saturday night)
Two other records that are close to being broken:
- Flowers is only 109 yards away from Mack’s single-season record of 1381 rushing yards.
- USF only needs 64 yards to break their single-season record of 5,741 total yards.
Sure, the odds are against USF winning their division. Anyone who’s watched East Carolina play the last few weeks can tell you there’s no freaking way they beat Temple on Saturday. Still, a 10-win season is nothing to turn up your nose at, especially when you’ve never had one. The Bulls can wrap that up on Saturday.
It’s UCF week. Oh boy.