Despite holding a 24-6 lead over East Carolina midway through the third quarter, USF found itself facing a game-tying two-point conversion attempt by ECU late in the fourth quarter.
The Pirates’ attempt failed on an out-of-bounds heave to the corner of the end zone, and moments later, USF put any thoughts of a comeback to rest with a 62-yard touchdown pass over the middle of the field from quarterback Quinton Flowers to receiver Rodney Adams.
Minutes later, junior running back Marlon Mack essentially ended the game with a nine-yard touchdown run to give USF (5-1, 2-0) the 38 – 22 win at Raymond James Stadium. The score was Mack’s second of the game and tied him with BJ Daniels for the most rushing touchdowns in program history with 25.
“I thought this ball game showed a lot of character in our football team,” coach Willie Taggart said. “We let East Carolina get back in it and we didn’t flinch. Our guys came back and made a play when we needed one. That was great to see for our football team after playing as bad as we did there throughout the game.”
After Pirates starting quarterback Philip Nelson was removed in the third quarter, backup Gardner Minshew wasted no time igniting the comeback effort with a touchdown pass to receiver Zay Jones on his first drive of the game.
Coupled with Jones’ 18 catches for 145 yards and a touchdown, the ECU (2-4, 0-2) offense also leaned on former quarterback James Summers, as the senior rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
“We held them to six and then the next thing I know, it’s 24-22 and they’re going for a two-point conversion, so yeah we had to stick together,” senior defensive back Nate Godwin said. “I’m proud of our guys though. On the sideline, no one had their heads down. Everyone was motivated like alright let’s go out and score.
“Q throws the ball to Rodney and Rodney scores and we’re right back in there. It was a good game for us because we got to bounce back.”
Led by the rushing attack of Flowers and Mack, USF extended its nation-leading streaks of at least 200 rushing yards and 35 points scored to 11 and 10 games, respectively.
In Mack’s best game of 2016, the junior rushed for 152 yards and two scores on 18 carries. Flowers added another 115 yards on 16 carries of his own.
Even though USF scored nearly 40 points once again, Taggart was displeased with his team’s undisciplined play, which resulted in nine penalties for 101 yards and several stalled drives.
“(The penalties were) very concerning, very concerning,” Taggart said. “It was a sloppy game by us, especially offensively there. We’re in the red zone and we have these penalties that gets us behind the sticks. It was just sloppy all over and we have to get this corrected if we’re going to be the team we say we want to be.”
USF returns to Raymond James Stadium next week to host UConn (3-3, 1-2) as the Bulls look to become bowl eligible.