Despite some early red-zone struggles, and a 3-3 tie at the end of one quarter, the #18 USF Bulls scored 17 points in the final seven minutes of the first half en route to a 33-3 win over Cincinnati on Saturday night in front of an announced 43,708 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
“It’s great that we got the win and we’re 6-0, but it wasn’t good enough. We can play much better than what we played. We have to execute, and we had too many penalties,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “We are actually a much better football team than we showed tonight.”
With the win, USF improved to 6-0 for the first time since 2007 and pushed the FBS’s longest winning streak to 11 games.
A 65-yard interception return for a touchdown by Auggie Sanchez with no time remaining in the first half lifted USF to some much needed separation and a 23-3 halftime lead.
“They just converted and got a free play. I am thinking Hail Mary, long shot, then it came to me. I got it, ran up the sideline and saw a lot of green grass on the left side, so I cut across the field,” Sanchez said. “There were a lot of good blocks from the guys.”
The pick-six for Sanchez makes him the first player since Trae Williams in 2007 with defensive touchdowns in back-to-back games. With six tackles in the game, Sanchez also passed DeDe Lattimore for second all-time on the USF tackle chart.
In pitching a shutout for the final three quarters, the USF defense has now held two of their last three FBS opponents to seven points or less. They had held one of their previous 51 FBS opponents to seven or less. The Sanchez interception gives the Bulls 15 through six games, the most in the nation.
“When you look at playing to win, you have to play great defense. Our defense understands that, our team understands that. We know what the offense is doing, but defensively we have to go out there and make stops,” Strong added. “Auggie makes the big play right before half that kind of ignites everybody. Those are things that we have to do because we have to play great defense.”
Despite numerous trips to the red-zone, the Bulls settled for field goals the majority of the first half with Emilio Nadelman connecting from 39, 28, and 21-yards respectively.
“Very easily we could’ve lost tonight. We got the ball in the red-zone and got field goals when they should’ve been touchdowns,” Strong added.
Following a 37-yard reception down the sideline by Temi Alaka, senior running back Darius Tice finally pushed USF into the end zone with an 11-yard touchdown run.
On the first drive of the second half, USF extended the 30-plus point streak to 23 consecutive games when senior quarterback Quinton Flowers scampered into the end zone for a 1-yard score on fourth-and-goal.
Flowers finished 16-for-29 passing for 184 yards, adding 85 yards on the ground to become the second ever Bull to rush for over 3,000 yards.
“Can’t stop and won’t stop what I am doing. I came here to do what I am doing now, making my family proud and making my mom proud,” Flowers said. “We played a little sloppy today, but we have to continue to play the game. I’m just continuing being a difference maker on the team.”
The Bulls managed just three points in the final quarter after junior Juwuan Brown recovered a Bearcats fumble to set up a field goal attempt. Nadelman tied Marvin Kloss for the USF record with his 13th straight made field goal from 24-yards.
“Sometimes, after a victory, everyone wants to be all jolly. You can’t always be jolly,” said Strong. “We didn’t play well. We didn’t play up to our standard. We can always play better.”
USF will return to action on Saturday night in New Orleans against Tulane as the conference slate rolls on. Read more of our thoughts and musings on the Cincinnati game here.