The 20th season of USF football kicked off Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium, with the Bulls handling FCS opponent Towson 56-20.
Despite losing starting running back Marlon Mack early in the second quarter on a hard hit that resulted in a fumble, USF picked up right where they left off from last season, scoring on the opening possession against the Tigers in the first game of 2016.
After Towson deferred the opening kickoff, junior quarterback Quinton Flowers connected with senior running back Darius Tice for a 43-yard touchdown scamper to open the scoring.
Starting fast was essential according to Flowers to show opponents how much the Bulls have improved since last season.
“It was really important,” Flowers said. “To show the team, show the coaches that we were prepared for this moment. Just show a lot of people what we can do.”
Coach Willie Taggart said Mack was taken out of the game for precautionary reasons and that the junior running back said he was good to play.
Coming out of the FCS (formally I-AA), Towson refused to fold after the Bulls’ quick score, responding to the opening tally with a 29-yard field goal of their own after converting on a 4th-and-8 play earlier in the drive to take a 7-3 lead early in the first quarter.
USF quickly shutdown the Tigers’ momentum, scoring on a 5-yard Mack touchdown run that was set up by senior wide out Rodney Adams’ 57-yard kickoff return.
Mack was later taken out of the game from what was believed to be an upper-body injury on a second-quarter red zone run.
“(Mack) took a good hit,” Taggart said. “He got up, and when he got to the locker room he was good. He said, ‘I’m cool, coach.’ That’s all I have to hear.”
Towson senior running back Darius Victor punched it in the second quarter to make it 14-10 USF before the Bulls would pull away for good.
Towson’s defense failed to keep up with an efficient USF offense whose first four scoring drives all culminated in touchdowns of less than two minutes.
Although not coming out quite as fast as the offense Saturday night, USF’s “Bull Shark” defense did show flashes of brilliance in the debut of newly promoted defensive coordinator Raymond Woodie.
After giving up a 56-yard completion from sophomore Oregon transfer Morgan Mahalak early in the second quarter to set up Towson’s opening touchdown, the Bulls buckled down to force three key turnovers that resulted in 21 points for USF.
The Bulls also managed to keep Towson under 300 yards of total offense despite the Tigers almost doubling the Bulls’ time of possession. Although the defense made adjustments in the second half, senior linebacker Nigel Harris said the Bulls still have some work to do.
“Tackling, we have to get better at tackling,” Harris said. “Just being able to line up quicker, make quicker adjustments. That’s one thing we need to practice on this week.”
With Mack out of the game for two-plus quarters, some new faces emerged for the Bulls’ offense.
The first play without Mack, N.C. State transfer receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling hauled in a 51-yard touchdown pass to take a 21-10 lead.
For Valdes-Scantling, it was his first career USF touchdown for the junior wide out. With his mother, father, and younger brother in attendance, Scantling credits hard work and good timing on the accomplishment.
“That’s what we practiced on, that’s what I’ve been waiting on,” Valdes-Scantling said.
“I’ve put myself in this situation by practicing hard and found myself in a good situation.”
The Bulls continue their 2016 campaign Saturday, when they host the Northern Illinois Huskies at 7 p.m.