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Quinton Flowers’ record-setting performance leads USF to 38-14 rout of SMU

USF sophomore quarterback Quinton Flowers dives toward the end zone for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s win over SMU. Flowers suffered a thigh contusion on the play, but said afterward he is going to be fine. ORACLE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

They had seen his high school highlight tapes, especially the ones where he flexed his biceps after making big plays. 

Although the athleticism and ability that made Quinton Flowers one of the most sought-after recruits was still there, the sophomore had left his teammates craving more in his short stint as USF’s starting quarterback.

Two weeks ago, coach Willie Taggart invited running backs Marlon Mack, Darius Tice and D’Ernest Johnson to dinner at his home. During conversation later that evening, the topic eventually turned to Flowers.

They told Taggart how they longed for him to finally take the reins. They needed Flowers to be the player who starred as one of the nation’s best dual-threats at Miami Jackson High.

“Those guys said, ‘We want to see that guy, coach. Tell him to be that guy, again,’” Taggart recalled. “The kid’s been different ever since then. His attitude, his approach to practices, his approach to meetings, and the way he is — he’s been different.

“And I thought that was a defining moment for him.”

On a crisp Saturday afternoon, before a crowd of 15,175 at Raymond James Stadium, Flowers’ transformation was finally complete. 

With Mack sidelined to nurse a strained hamstring, Flowers stepped up and turned in the best rushing performance by any USF signal-caller in program history (201 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries) to lead the Bulls in a 38-14 rout of Southern Methodist — their largest margin of victory in a conference game since defeating Syracuse by 32 points in 2008.

How remarkable was Flowers’ feat?

• He easily shattered Matt Grothe’s record of 146 yards set against Connecticut in 2007 and set the AAC mark for most rushing yards by a quarterback.

• His three rushing scores tied quarterbacks Marquel Blackwell, B.J. Daniels and Grothe for the most in a single game.

• His 67-yard scramble to open the second quarter tied the program record for the second-longest, non-scoring run just behind Aston Samuels’ 75-yarder at Syracuse in 2007.

Perhaps more important than what was printed on the stat sheet, however, was that USF improved to 4-3 overall and 2-1 in the AAC — its first time being over .500 in October since 2011. With five games remaining, the Bulls are two victories from bowl eligibility. 

“When you have coaches that believe in you and you’ve got guys that believe in you, and you just do what they say, everything just plays out,” Flowers said.

Everything did on Saturday.

Though the Bulls were slow out of the gate — trailing 7-3 after a first quarter in which they mustered just 20 yards against the nation’s 125th-ranked defense — Flowers quickly picked up the pace.

His 67-yard rush allowed Tice to get into the end zone two plays later to give USF a lead it did not relinquish. Two possessions later, Flowers drove the offense downfield in five plays and capped the 55-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown.

The Bulls poured it on from there.

Flowers added two more scores in the fourth quarter, including one from 18 yards out with six minutes remaining in which he leaped toward the pylon and was spun in the air after being walloped in the leg by an SMU defender.

Flowers limped off the field with what was later diagnosed as a thigh contusion.

“Sometimes you’d like to have him slide and not take hits,” Taggart said, “but that’s Quinton Flowers.”

In the locker room afterward, Taggart presented Flowers with the game ball for his effort.

“He’s just a phenomenal athlete,” Taggart said. “We have been saying that from Day 1, he’s just getting better every week and he’s growing up. …

“Thank God we have Quinton Flowers on our side.”