After a penalty-riddled first half, the #22 USF Bulls dominated the Illinois Fighting Illini 47-23 Friday night at Raymond James Stadium in front of an announced crowd of 35,404.
The Bulls (3-0) racked up 680 yards of total offense, the most ever versus an FBS team and second most in school history behind the 745 they gained against FAMU in 2011.
Both teams combined for 31 penalties (a school record). In the first half alone, there were 26 total flags. USF finished with 16 infractions, 14 in the first half.
The most important thing in this game? They. Let. Him. Cook.
Senior quarterback Quinton Flowers looked like the 2016 version of himself tonight, throwing for 280 yards, four touchdowns and rushing for 105 yards and a score.
“I went back out there being myself and just playing the game I love, and I know the guys love seeing that,” Flowers said. “The guys love when I do that, so I’m gonna do whatever it takes for my team to win.”
It is the third time Flowers has thrown four TDs in a game. He passed former USF quarterbacks Matt Grothe and SUPER BOWL CHAMPION B.J. Daniels for second on the all-time list with 53 passing scores. He also tied former running back Marlon Mack with his 32nd career rushing touchdown.
One catalyst for tonight’s performance was the offensive line. On Wednesday, offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said that they were still looking for the “right five” offensive linemen to play. Tonight, Rimington Trophy watchlister Cam Ruff moved back to center after starting the first two games at right guard. Reserve tackle/guard William Atterbury slid in at right guard, and the improvement was almost instantaneous.
“You look at our offensive line, it was always just one guy missing,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “(William) Atterbury was the replacement tonight and he played really well for us. He was able to put Ruff back at center. That was really good for us, and the two tackles, they’ve been mainstays the whole time. It’s all about continuity with your offensive line, and you gotta put a hat on guys.”
“I did feel a little more comfortable at center after playing at that position last year... but I’m out there trying to be in whatever position the team needs me in,” Ruff said.
Flowers and running backs D’Ernest Johnson (101) and Darius Tice (105) each rushed for over 100 yards, just the second time in school history USF has had three 100-yard rushers in the same game. Flowers, Johnson, and Marlon Mack did the trick against Navy last year.
“The O-line did a tremendous job, too. Even though we got the hundred yards, they did a tremendous job,” Tice said. “They were the reason why. There were a lot of holes opened up for us..They definitely found the right five. The O-line did an outstanding job, hands down. They’re the reason why we got three hundred-yard rushers. They came out there and they blocked their butts off the whole game. They give you a little crease and they finish, they finish plays. You run the ball and they’re down the field blocking.”
In the passing game, Deangelo Antoine caught four passes for a career-high 93 yards and opened the scoring with his first USF touchdown in the first quarter. He also chipped in 31 yards on the ground. Strong said after the game that he challenged senior wide out Marquez Valdes-Scantling to have a good game, and he came through with four catches for 96 yards and a score.
Defensively, the Bulls continued their torrid early-season pace. They forced three turnovers and two sacks while holding Illinois (2-1) to 67 yards rushing. The first-team defense bottled up Illini quarterback Chayce Crouch and running back Mike Epstein, who ran for over 100 yards against Western Kentucky last week.
Eighteen different Bulls recorded a tackle tonight. Hoggins had four tackles and an interception. Tajee Fullwood and freshman linebacker Keirston Johnson each picked off passes in the fourth quarter.
Special teams continue to be a trouble area for USF. Emilio Nadelman had a 36-yard field goal blocked following USF’s opening possession. After the Bulls scored their first touchdown, his extra point was blocked and returned for two points by Illinois. That’s four blocked kicks/punts already in three games. It will cost the Bulls a game later in the year if they can’t correct the issues.
USF faces Temple on Thursday at Raymond James Stadium. The game is set to kick off at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.
“We got a short week again. I told them enjoy it tonight,” Strong said. “Tomorrow we’re back and we’re going to work tomorrow. The thing about this team is they’ll respond. When you have a leader in your quarterback like Q, he just goes about his work and everyone follows him”
- USF invited all first responders and their families to come to the game for free. Over 2,000 took them up on the offer. Charlie Strong also invited Bay Area high school football teams who weren’t playing tonight to come to the game. Eighty-five teams showed up.
- Lovie Smith falls to 4-15 all time at Raymond James Stadium as a head coach. He was 1-1 as the Chicago Bears HC and 3-13 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneeers.
- DT Deadrin Senat was ejected from the game for the second time this year for targeting.
- USF improves to 6-19 all-time on ESPN.
- The Bulls were 12-of-18 on third down and held the ball for over 38 minutes.
- WR Darnell Salomon did not suit up due to a “minor injury.”
- WR Deangelo Antoine was seen limping after the game from the injury he sustained earlier in the night.