Despite allowing a 34-7 third quarter lead to slip away, the #16 USF Bulls scored 21 points in a span of eight minutes of game time that proved to be the difference in a 34-28 win over Tulane at Yulman Stadium in New Orleans on Saturday night.
“It’s great we won the game. We didn’t finish it the way we would like to. When you get a score like (34-7), you want your defense to go out and finish... we gave up 14 points in the fourth quarter,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “When we get in a position like this, it’s all about putting a team away.”
A D’Ernest Johnson 2-yard score midway through the third quarter gave USF that 34-7 lead, and marked the 24th consecutive game in which the Bulls have scored 30 or more points. That is now the longest such streak in NCAA college football history.
“Offensively, over 300 yards rushing, right at 370 yards rushing. Tice had a big day. Our quarterback always has a big day. And you look at what D’Ernest did,” Strong added. “It was great to see Salomon go down and make the catch, and then you see Valdes-Scantling go up and make the catch.”
With the win, USF improves to 7-0 for the first time in school history and extends the the FBS’s longest winning streak to 12 games.
While Tulane (3-4) finished the game by scoring 21 unanswered points on a worn out USF defense, the Green Wave failed to recover two crucial onside kick attempts late in the fourth quarter, and allowed a 30-yard third-down run to Darius Tice that sealed the victory for the Bulls.
“We learned character. In college football, everything doesn’t go your way. At the end of the day, you’ve got to keep fighting and keep playing,” Tice said. “Sometimes there will be rough games. It shows a lot of character the way you finish a team off.”
Tice finished with 12 carries for 141 yards and the touchdown.
“My main goal is to do whatever to help the team. If that’s what they need me to do, then that’s what I’ll do,” Tice added. “My main goal, when coach puts me in, if we need first downs or we need touchdowns, that’s my job.”
Senior quarterback Quinton Flowers opened the scoring for USF midway through the first quarter with a 21-yard touchdown scramble to give the Bulls a 7-0 advantage.
Flowers most crucial play in the game, however, might have come on a 38-yard touchdown pass to Darnell Salomon with just a few seconds remaining in the second quarter to give USF a 20-7 halftime lead.
“I feel like I played pretty good. Tried to take what the defense was giving me,” Flowers said. “When my guys were open and we had to take the shots, I tried to make them count.”
Flowers finished 10-for-24 with 127 yards for a touchdown and an interception.
“At the end of the game, we just had to run it down their throat and run the time out. Tulane is a good team and they showed it today. They didn’t give up. They kept playing,” Flowers added. “We had to go out there and convert, get first downs to run out the clock, and that’s what we did.”
The Green Wave averaged 4.9 yards per play against the Bulls defense in the first half and then 9.6 yards per play in the second half in an attempt to storm back and knock off a ranked team for the first time since 1984.
Tulane junior quarterback Jonathan Banks gave his best effort in the late comeback attempt, connecting with senior running back Dontrell Hilliard for a 24-yard touchdown pass to trim the lead to 34-21 with 7:40 remaining.
Hilliard struck again with under three minutes remaining, busting away for a 16-yard score to cut the deficit to just six points. Hilliard finished with 24 carries for 94 yards. The Green Wave also had three touchdowns taken off the board in this game due to penalty, two of those coming in the fourth quarter.
“When you get up like that, it’s all about how you finish. We didn’t finish the game,” Strong said. “These guys gotta go make plays, and continue to play, and play until the whistle blows.”
USF returns to action next Saturday at Raymond James Stadium for a 3:30 p.m kickoff against Houston. The Bulls remaining four conference opponents have a combined record of 15-13: their previous four are 10-21 on the season.