In the 14th meeting all-time, USF’s 45-20 victory over Cincinnati on Saturday night will always be remembered as the night junior running back Marlon Mack cemented himself in the lore of Bulls’ football.
Looking to respond to last week’s disappointing loss to No. 12 Florida State, USF (4-1, 1-0) came out imposing their tempo on Cincinnati (3-2, 0-1) early with a 26-yard field goal from Emilio Nadelman to cap off a 15-play opening drive.
After the early USF score, both teams would trade points as both quarterback Quinton Flowers and running back D’Ernest Johnson would each run it in for the Bulls to make the game 17-13 USF with 11:07 left in the first half.
The Bearcats again responded, this time with a 12-play, 92-yard drive capped off by a Kahlil Lewis touchdown grab from junior quarterback Josh Trail.
With exactly three minutes left in the half, USF’s “Gulf Coast” offense had plenty of time to operate, with Mack getting on the board with a 4-yard touchdown run to give the Bulls a 24-20 halftime lead.
Giving up 20 points in the first half, USF’s “Bull Sharks” tightened up after halftime, coming through with their most impressive performance of the season thus far.
After forcing Cincinnati to punt on their first possession of the third quarter, USF forced turnovers on three-straight Bearcat possessions, giving them four total on the evening. The final turnover, a 10-yard interception returned for a touchdown by senior Johnny Ward, put Cincinnati down 38-20.
Coming into Saturday night, Marlon Mack only needed 95 yards to become the leading rusher in the 20- year history of USF football.
With a touchdown and 69 yards to his credit already, Mack took a pitch from Flowers with 12:30 to go in the fourth quarter and broke open up the right side for a 49-yard touchdown to cap the scoring at 45-20.
The run, which would also give Mack his 15th career 100-yard rushing game, moves him past former NFL running back Andre Hall, whose 2,731 yards have stood as the career backfield benchmark since 2005.
Although the Bulls were able to come out their first conference game of the season with a compelling win, injuries to both sides of the ball could have a lasting impact on the Bulls’ conference title hopes going forward.
Early in the first quarter, junior defensive tackle Bruce Hector had to be helped off the field after to appear to reinjure his left ankle. Shortly after, junior cornerback Deatrick Nichols came off the field after a collision, and was later seen on the sidelines in street clothes.
The most significant loss for the Bulls, however, came to freshman starting right tackle Billy Atterbury, who suffered a leg injury and was carted off after being rolled up in the second half. All three players did not return.
The Bulls return home next Saturday to host AAC foe East Carolina (2-3, 0-1) for homecoming. The Bulls were able to escape with a 22-17 comeback win on the road in last year’s meeting. Kick off is Saturday at noon.