Behind the resurgence of receiver Rodney Adams, the legs of tailback Marlon Mack and a defensive effort that included five sacks, USF is on its first two-game win streak following Saturday’s 28-20 victory over Connecticut.
The Bulls (3-3, 1-1 American Athletic Conference) sit third in the AAC East behind unbeaten Temple and East Carolina, and are three wins from reaching bowl eligibility with six games to go.
Here are three things we learned from their performance in East Hartford:
The Offense Has Turned the Corner
One of the biggest questions coming into Saturday’s game was whether or not USF could sustain its offensive success from last weekend’s upset of Syracuse. Though the Bulls started slow, they capitalized in the second half. Sophomore quarterback Quinton Flowers threw for 157 yards and two touchdowns and running back D’Ernest Johnson added another through the air on a trick play.
But arguably the most important part of it all was that USF got its receivers in the mix once again with Adams setting career highs in catches (five), yards (118) and touchdown receptions (three) despite being limited by a pretty serious knee contusion he sustained in practice Thursday.
With SMU (1-5, 0-2) coming to town owning the nation’s 123rd-ranked total defense and allowing 45.2 points per game (125th nationally), there is no excuse for USF not to keep piling on as it inches toward its toughest stretch of conference play.
Unsurprisingly, Mack continues to be USF's best player
It seems the only question about Mack now remains whether the Bulls will be able to keep him around for one more year or two.
The Sarasota native had 13 carries for 113 yards to surpass the century mark for the third straight game and fourth time in six games. The last time a Bull did that? Andre Hall in 2005.
Even when it looks like Mack is going to be halted – something UConn’s defense did a good job of doing early Saturday – he finds a way to get around it. It also helps that USF successfully opened up its passing game, which gave the Huskies something else to think about.
Mack now sits at 689 total yards on the season. If he continues that pace, Mack will easily surpass the 1,041 he rushed for as a freshman last season.
By the end of his career at USF, he might be the program’s best back ever.
Don’t forget about the defense
Tom Allen’s “Bull Sharks” allowed UConn, which came into the game ranked 116th in total offense, to rack up a season-high 528 yards. But when it came time to get crucial stops, USF was right there to make it happen.
One of the plays of the day was linebacker Nigel Harris’ fourth-down sack of UConn quarterback Bryant Shirreffs at the 36-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Harris, a Hillsborough High product, busted through the line untouched and nabbed Shirreffs in the backfield. Three plays later, Flowers connected with Adams for a 44-yard touchdown to seal the win.
It was a good day for USF’s defensive backs, too, as Devin Abraham and Jamie Byrd earned their first career sacks.
With the entire unit looking more comfortable — and dominant — as the season progresses, the combination of it and a blossoming offense might be enough to give USF some postseason plans come late December.
Follow Jeff Odom on Twitter, @ByJeffOdom.