Banged and bruised, USF put an authoritative stamp on Saturday night with a 38-14 rout of Southern Methodist at Raymond James stadium.
Playing without their offensive centerpiece in sophomore tailback Marlon Mack, who was sidelined with a strained hamstring, the Bulls (4-3, 2-1 American Athletic Conference) found out just how explosive sophomore quarterback Quinton Flowers could be as he shattered the single-game-rushing yardage record for a quarterback, amassing 201 yards on 23 carries.
USF was clicking in every facet of the eclipsing their largest margin of victory over a conference opponent since beating Syracuse 45-13 in 2008.
Here are three things we learned from the victory:
Flowers’ instincts may be more dangerous than his athleticism
Sticking with Flowers through the highs and lows has turned out well for USF coach Willie Taggart, whose team has strung together three consecutive wins for the first time since 2011.
Flowers became a human highlight reel against the Mustangs (1-6, 0-3) on Saturday, letting his instincts take over.
With the Bulls facing a 3rd-and-5 on the USF 27-yard line late in the third quarter, Flowers flushed out of the pocket, broke two would-be tacklers, then dropped back to deliver a pinpoint strike to freshman receiver Chris Barr for 38 yards.
This set the Bulls up with a first and 10 at the SMU 35-yard line before a fumbled trick play pulled USF back where it was forced to punt.
This wouldn’t be the last time Flowers would use his legs to extend plays, though. On his final play of the game before being pulled in the fourth quarter, Flowers dropped back to pass, scampered out of the pocket and turned on the jets, leaping over defenders and spinning into the end zone for his third TD.
“Coach calls plays and if the defense goes opposite, I have to do what I have to do and look at my reads,” Flowers said. “That’s why God gave me the ability to run.
“ I try and do things to give my receivers time to get open and help them get open and if it isn’t there, I use my legs.”
Flowers was shaken up with a thigh contusion on that final play, but said following the game that he will 100 percent be in the lineup next week at Navy.
Jamie Byrd is the driving force behind USF’s defense
Although this may not be a new piece of information, it was one reiterated multiple times: senior husky Jamie Byrd feasts on opposing quarterbacks.
On the opening drive of the game, Byrd blitzed from the right side – untouched – and swatted the ball from Mustangs QB Matt Davis’ hand for his first sack and forced fumble of the game.
A few possessions later, Byrd came in untouched yet again, this time on Davis’ blindside. In an instant, Byrd laid his body into Davis’ back and drove him into the ground for sack number two.
“I love it,” Byrd said with a grin. “There’s nothing like it.”
Even with his knack for coming off the edge — seven tackles for loss and four sacks this season — Byrd is still surprised when he goes untouched, but relishes the chance to lay a bone-crushing hit.
“It gives me that though like, ‘Did they really let me free? Is this real?’ And then it goes into slow motion like don’t make a mistake,” Byrd said.
Byrd finished the game with 10 tackles and two forced fumbles and two sacks.
USF’s receivers are still a work in progress
Although the receivers didn’t play a huge role in the game’s outcome, their play won’t go unnoticed.
In Taggart’s words, just “sloppy”.
On the opening drive of the second half, Flowers reared back and heaved one of his few shots downfield on a direct line to Barr only to watch it slip through his hands and fall to the turf.
On the ensuing play, Flowers floated a bubble screen to freshman Jordan Reed who bobbled and dropped the pass.
There were six dropped passes by USF’s receivers on Saturday, a statistic Taggart hopes to fix.
“It was just sloppy all over,” Taggart said. “It was great to that everyone else stepped up and made plays.”
Although Flowers did most of his work on the ground, he went completed just 9-of-20 passes for 97 yards. Taggart said more pass plays were called, but when the plays broke down, Flowers took off.
Follow Jacob Hoag on Twitter, @JacobHoagUSF.