Time of Possession: WKU- 31:28 USF- 28:32
Time of Game: 4 hours, 3 minutes
Announced Attendance: 21,712
Bowl Factoids: USF falls to 4-3 all-time in bowl games.
Notable USF Stats:
-USF caps most prolific season offensively in school history. Set record in yards of total offense (5,741), rushing yards (3,205), and touchdowns (54).
-437 points on season second in school history.
-Set school record for yards averaged per game with 441.6.
-Bull Sharks’ 17 INTs third best in school history.
-Quinton Flowers: Passing- 14/32, 272 yards, 1 TD. Rushing- 108 yards, 2 TDs. Career high in passing yards. 3,278 yards of total offense in 2015. USF season record 34 total touchdowns. Finishes season with 991 rushing yards and 12 rushing TDs on season, both school records for QBs.
-Marlon Mack: 17 carries, 108 yards. Record ninth 100+ yard rushing game of season. Breaks Andre Hall’s single season rushing record with 1,381 yards in 2015. Just 309 yards short of Hall’s all-time career mark at 2,371.
-Rodney Adams: Receiving- 6 receptions, 130 yards, 1 TD. Rushing- 5 carries, 45 yards, 1 TD. Left game in fourth quarter due to injury. 822 yards and 9 TDs are single season school receiving records.
-Auggie Sanchez: 11 tackles. Ties Kawika Mitcchell for second in single season tackles category with 117.
-Devin Abraham: 9 tackles
-Eric Lee: 3 tackles, 1 sack 1 INT/p>
-Jamie Byrd: 8 tackles, 1 TFL
-P Brent Gordon: Punted seven times for 277 yards throughout game. Filling in for Mattias Ciabatti who was suspended from game for violation of team curfew.
Notable WKU Stats:
-QB Brandon Doughty: 32/44, 461 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs. Game MVP.
-RB Anthony Wales: 14 carries, 105 yards, 2 TDs. Scored game-icing touchdown on 42 yard run in fourth quarter.
-WR Taywan Taylor: 7 receptions, 104 yards.
-WR Nicholas Norris: 5 receptions, 120 yards, 2 TDs.
-LB: T.J. McCollum: 6 tackles, 1 pass break-up, 1 QB hit.
-DE Derik Overstreet: 4 tackles, 2 TFL
Flea flickers and trick plays, explosive offenses, brash coaching decisions, and momentum shifts told the story in Marlins Park as South Florida fell to Jeff Brohm’s Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 45-35.
For the detractors who every year cry that there are too many bowl games, see exhibit A, the 2015 Miami Beach Bowl, for why bowl season can produce fast-paced, unpredictable, down-to-the-wire matchups between two random foes that otherwise wouldn’t have anything to do with one another. This was fun.
“I’m very proud of this football team. I’m very proud of the seniors,” head coach Willie Taggart said after his team’s performance. “I was excited they got a chance to be in a bowl game and disappointed that we didn’t get a win for them. The future is bright for USF Football. We have a lot of guys returning and we’ll get back to work.”
The Bulls started the scoring party in the first half on the strength of respective touchdowns by Quinton Flowers and Rodney Adams to take a 14-0 lead in the second quarter. WKU would strike and shift momentum later in the quarter on a controversial fourteen-yard touchdown from running back Anthony Wales. As Wale extended his arm across the goal-line, the ball slipped out his hands and bounced out of bounds, forcing Taggart to call for a challenge to have the play overturned to result in a touchback. However, the MAC officials overseeing the contest upheld the touchdown, causing several of the USF in the ballpark and on social media to cry foul.
"He said he didn't have a camera on the pylon, so he had to keep it there," Taggart said of the refs afterwards.
From there, the highly prolific WKU offense took control, outscoring USF 31-7 over the next quarter and a half. A suddenly stagnant Bulls offense cut the deficit to three on the strength of a trick-play D’Ernest Johnson to Tyre McCants 34 -yard touchdown pass, but that could only do so much.
Then the fourth quarter happened. Down 38-21, the Bulls immediately opened the quarter with a 53-yard Flowers to Adams play-action bomb to create a new spark to the stagnant offense. On the ensuing USF drive, the Bulls would cruise down the field in six plays that ended with a 12-yard Quinton Flowers touchdown run to bring the Bulls within three. After a tipped pass fell into the hands of defensive lineman Eric Lee for the interception on the very next Hilltopper drive, the 5,000 plus USF fans and students who made the five-hour trek came alive as their team had an opportunity to tie the game or claim the lead.
“I believed when we were 17 points down, I never lost faith,” Marlon Mack said afterwards. “Always keep fighting to the last minute.” Unfortunately for the Bulls, the bus ran out of gas. A 54-yard Emilio Nadelman field goal attempt curved left at the final moment. From there, WKU would ice the game with a 45-yard Anthony Wales TD on the next drive.
Although hard fought, the Bulls coaching staff felt that their guys didn’t play the same sound football that led them to winning seven out of eight contests down the stretch. "We made mistakes we hadn't made since probably Maryland,” defensive coordinator Tom Allen said of their Beach Bowl effort afterwards.
For Western Kentucky, the seeds Willie Taggart planted within the program are now yielding results in full force as they finish with their best record since joining FBS. These results are what Taggart and company hopes to replicate in the immediate future in Tampa.
So ends a program defining season in South Florida football history. The tide has been turned and the dark ages are over as the Bulls have returned to respectability amongst college football’s finest with a head coach who is, for now, slated to be in Tampa until 2020. With the coming offseason, there will be high expectation for USF with several core starters returning and what looks to be another solid recruiting class incoming. But for now, players, fans, coaches, and seniors like Thor Jozwiak can sit back and appreciate what has been accomplished in 2015.
“We left it better than we found it and that’s something the young guys can build on. They can go out and have a phenomenal offseason and win this conference. They’re going to win a bowl game. They have something to prove now and something to work for.”