USF kicked off a season with high expectations by disposing of Towson pretty easily, but certainly not in error-free fashion. Let’s cover the good, bad, and funny from Opening Night at Tampa’s Community Investment Tax Stadium.
The Starting QB
Quinton Flowers showed so many of the reasons why he’s so prized: Four touchdowns (two rushing, two passing), lots of plays made and extended with his feet, and just one turnover. His first rushing TD was due to the pocket breaking down, so he just pulled it down and flew to the pylon. That ability is simply fantastic, and his 53 yards (excluding sack yardage) rushing were because of his timing and athleticism.
Some pretty terrible throws missed wide open receivers. The INT was a case study in “seriously?” He missed guys in the slot and over the middle and by the sideline and in every which way possible. It is his Achilles heel as a player, and it’s going to cost the Bulls at some point against better opponents.
On several deep balls, Quinton looked terrific. He saw man coverage on Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and threw him a perfect “go get it big guy” 51-yard TD in the second quarter that shows why he’s so dangerous; since you have to account for Flowers as a runner, it opens up so much space for talented skill players down the field.
The Run Game
41 carries for 239 yards from the run game is pretty solid. The holes were big and so was the space in the second level, though none went for more than 20 yards. Four of those got stopped by the end zone, and seven different players non-QB’s got at least one carry.
Please, please be OK Marlon Mack. His ninth career fumble in the second quarter came with a violent open-field tackle, and he didn’t return for the rest of the game. “I walked in the locker room he said ‘I’m good, Coach.’ He told me he was good,” said Willie Taggart after the game, who also said his benching was precautionary.
As good as D’Ernest Johnson and Darius Tice are, and you could do a helluva lot worse than those guys as starters in a pinch, having Mack just adds a different dimension to the Bulls offense.
The best rush of the night came from a streaker that didn’t even get on the gridiron. Only wearing socks, he looked pretty thrilled to be getting arrested by the Bulls sideline at halftime. People are weird.
The Bullsharks 2.0 held Towson to just 3.2 yards per play, forced three fumbles, recovered all of them, and Nigel Harris picked off a pass he returned 49 yards to set up a touchdown.
At points the defense failed to get enough pressure with just four guys, so lots of blitzes were run. Of course sometimes you need extra bodies to get to the quarterback, but you’d rather not use those bodies against FCS opponents. The biggest difference between FBS and FCS is less about skill than it is about size and speed in the trenches.
Also Lamar Robbins got scalded pretty good on one play by Towson’s Christian Summers. But we’re picking nits here.
The Funny: Watching poor Morgan Mahalak having to scrape himself up off the deck over and over. He really got whacked a few times.
No one died. And no kickoffs or punts got housed.
Nine kickoffs yielded zero touchbacks and 240 yards of returns, including a 61-yarder off the foot of Brandon Behr. Behr replaced Emilio Nadelman, who was struggling to get the ball anywhere near the goal line.
So Behr came in and got it to the paint, but apparently kicked it to the wrong place according to Taggart after the game. Thus the run back because the return didn’t adjust. Oops.
The kicking game could be a serious problem for the Bulls at some point. And finding a better leg to boot it on kickoffs wouldn’t hurt the field position war.
You’ll often see coaches fail to tell the media which player will be the starter be for tactical reasons... however that’s not normally done with a punter. But Johnathan Hernandez got the start and averaged 38.5 yards on four punts, all of which were fair caught. He doesn’t seem to have a huge leg, but if he can get them airborne enough where the coverage can get there, that’ll be fine. After all... the goal is to have him never see the field.