Flowers blossoms as Bulls become bowl eligible

USF quarterback Quinton Flowers rushed for 157 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries in the Bulls’ 15-point victory over UConn on Saturday. ORACLE PHOTO/JACKIE BENITEZ

From the first time Quinton Flowers took off with the ball Saturday in USF’s 42-27 win over UConn at Raymond James Stadium, he reminded those in attendance just how special an athlete he is. 

He danced around the backfield for what seemed like an eternity, skillfully evading each and every Huskies defender in reach before finding a hole and bursting through for a 54-yard touchdown run. 

“He was like a cheat code out there on that play,” USF coach Willie Taggart said. “It’s fun to watch. You sit back there, ‘Oh, get down. Oh wait, good job Quinton.’ But that’s him, I think the kid has eyes in the back of his head with some of the things he does.”

The score was Flowers’ first of five total touchdowns, three of which came on the ground. 

In front of 19,524 fans, according to the Tampa Sports Authority, Flowers tied his career high for touchdowns in a game while helping USF (6-1, 3-0) become bowl eligible for the second-earliest time in program history. 

When the Bulls won their sixth game last season on Nov. 14, fans stormed the field while the players celebrated the achievement. This year, Taggart and the Bulls have their sights set much higher. 

“It’s never been our goal just to become bowl eligible,” Taggart said. “It’s great to be bowl eligible now because you need to win some ballgames this time of year. But we’re out for something much bigger than this. It’s great to be 6-1.”

Even after surrendering the lead by allowing two quick touchdowns to UConn running back Arkeel Newsome in the opening minutes of the second half, the Bulls answered with a 28-3 run to secure the win.

Despite turning the ball over four times, including some inefficient passing from Flowers at times, the Bulls extended all of its nation-leading streaks of 200 yard rushing games (12), 440 yards of total offense (11) and 35 points scored (11). 

Along with Flowers, junior
running back Marlon Mack added 107 yards and a score on 16 carries, passing B.J. Daniels for the most rushing touchdowns in
program history (26).

“We started slow, but I went and talked to our guys,” Flowers said. “At first, we weren’t playing USF football. We missed a lot of open routes, we missed a lot of open catches and I made a few bad throws. 

“At the end of the day, our guys did not give up. They kept fighting and we kept playing as a team and as an offense, and we came out with the victory.”

Aside from the offense’s scoring barrage in the second half, the Bulls defense held UConn in check, stopping several drives short with nine tackles for loss on the night, including a season-high five sacks of UConn quarterback Bryant Shirreffs. 

After holding the Huskies to only 75 yards on the ground and just three first-half points, junior linebacker Auggie Sanchez said the defense was motivated by its critics over the past few weeks. 

“(I had) a little bit of motivation between me and Coach T,” Sanchez said. “He told me some things about stuff people have said about me. I always have a little extra motivation; you have to play with a chip on your shoulder. You can’t get too complacent with what you do. There were some words said between me and Coach T.

“I’m tired of hearing that USF can’t play defense, (and that) USF is an offensively dominant team. It ticks us off as a defense. Just because we played one bad game, we’re viewed as not having a good enough defense. It makes us mad and gives us a little bit of extra motivation each week.”

The junior captain of the defense finished with three of the Bulls’ five sacks, a career high. 

As USF continues on its path toward a potential conference championship appearance, the Bulls will travel to play at Temple (4-3, 2-1) on Friday.

“It’s good that our guys responded,” Taggart said. “They had the momentum. It’s tough for a team to get momentum, but it’s good for our guys to not flinch and regain the momentum. That’s the second time this year we’ve done that. That’s not the way we want to be every week but it’s great to see that our football team can do that when we need to.”