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Birmingham Bowl EMOJICAP: USF 46, South Carolina 39

In our final EMOJICAP of the season, we pick out highlights from USF’s overtime victory in the Birmingham Bowl.

NCAA Football: Birmingham Bowl-South Florida vs South Carolina Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Well, the Birmingham Bowl was an entertaining show, wasn’t it?

After coughing up an 18-point second half lead, Quinton Flowers found Elkanah Dillon in the corner of the end zone on the first play of overtime to defeat South Carolina 46-39 and notch a program-record eleventh win on the year.

Now that Nick is back from Birmingham and we’ve all been able to watch this game again, here is the final EMOJICAP of the 2016 season. First, the box score:

On to the emojis:

While the end result is the only thing that matters, South Carolina’s offense actually slightly outgained USF throughout the entire contest. Led by freshman quarterback Jake Bentley, the Gamecock offense racked up 480 yards on 6.2 yards per play. USF had 469 yards on 5.9 yards per play.

Now, obviously a majority of that production came in the second half as South Carolina was playing catch up while USF went into full deer in headlights mode sputtered offensively down the stretch. But it’s a bit surprising considering that this is an offense ranked 117th in S&P+ and averaged an abysmal 4.7 yards per play for the entire season. Then again, with USF’s defense all year, maybe it wasn’t that surprising.

Remember before the season when we said we didn’t want to hear about how Quinton Flowers needed to improve this and that? Our exact words were “let him cook.” How did that turn out? Well...

  • He had 4,337 yards of total offense in 2016, easily breaking Matt Grothe’s school record.
  • He broke the single-season rushing record and became USF’s first 1500-yard runner.
  • He almost reached Grothe’s single-season passing yardage record. His 2,807 passing yards were 104 shy of the record.
  • He broke his own school record for TD passes in a season with 24.
  • He set the school record for touchdowns in a season (18) and nearly became USF’s all-time single-season scoring leader, missing Delbert Alvarado’s 109-point year in 2007 by one point.
  • He was a Walter Camp Award semifinalist for the best player in college football.
  • He led USF to an 11-win season and made at least a dozen amazing plays that no one else who has ever worn a USF uniform could have possibly made.

I guess what we’re saying is Quinton Flowers had a good season.

USF continued the country’s longest streak of consecutive 30+ point games with their 17th straight on Thursday. However, they were able to do so without the offense scoring a single touchdown in the second half.

It’s almost as if the two offenses switched places, as a once booming Gulf Coast attack hit a rough patch in the third and fourth quarters. Here’s the second half drive chart for the Bulls:

  • Field Goal
  • Punt
  • Interception
  • Punt
  • Punt

USF had five offensive drives and only managed three points down the stretch, as their demeanor and confidence from the first half disappeared for a good portion late in the ballgame. Their only second-half touchdown was a Tajee Fullwood pick six.

A key aspect was how the two teams fared inside the red zone. While USF went a perfect 4-for-4, South Carolina went 4-for-8, including their failed drive in overtime.

Two instances that stood out were the two goal-line fumbles the Gamecocks lost in the second half as they were attempting their late comeback. South Carolina would eventually score on their next drives, but if not for the extra time it would take them to recover and score each time, they could have ended up winning.

So... are we sure USF actually won that game? On the last play, Mike Love sacked Bentley and he fumbled. Khalid McGee recovered, but instead of just falling on the ball he decided to run with it, only to fumble it back to South Carolina. It should have been a first down for the Gamecocks, right?

Wrong. During regulation play it would have been a 1st and 10 for South Carolina, but not in overtime. Please direct your attention to Rule 3, Section 1, Article 3, rule (e) in the NCAA rulebook (emphasis added):

Possession series: Each team retains the ball during a possession series until it scores or fails to make a first down. The ball remains alive after a change of team possession until it is declared dead. However, Team A may not have a first down if it regains possession after a change of team possession (A.R. 3-1-3-I-IX).

Now, if the Gamecocks had recovered and then run it into the end zone, that would have counted as a touchdown. The rulebook has a variety of rules interpretations for things that could happen in overtime, and one of them covers a play like this:

VI. During the first possession series of a period, Team B gains possession and then loses possession to Team A, which (a) scores a touchdown; (b) does not score a touchdown. RULING: (a) The score counts. In both (a) and (b), Team A’s possession series ends and Team B begins its possession series.

Obviously that didn’t happen, and once South Carolina fell on the ball, the game was over. For more information, consult your nearest NCAA rule book.

The Bulls were the most successful fourth-down team in FBS this season, finishing an incredible 17 for 19, or 89%. South Carolina got one of those two stops on the first series of the game, but USF hit their next two on some pretty daring decisions, even by the Gulf Coast Offense’s standards. Early in the second quarter, the Bulls converted a 4th and 5 from the South Carolina 42 with a 22-yard pass to D’Ernest Johnson. Then right before halftime, USF turned a 4th and 3 at the Gamecock 37 into a touchdown pass to Johnson.

USF’s fourth-down success this year was due to their explosive offense, fearlessness, and aggressiveness... but getting 17 out of 19 also takes some good luck.

I think we can owe USF’s game winning fourth-down stop to our very own Carl Zee getting the fans hyped in overtime. Good job Carl.