It was all about the ground game for the South Florida Bulls, running all over an ECU defense that has given up the second most rushing yards in the conference. USF came out of their 20th homecoming game with a 38-22 victory against the East Carolina Pirates, with their record breaking running back and versatile quarterback combo leading the way for USF.
The Bulls ran for 306 yards on 42 attempts for the day, with junior running back Marlon Mack busting out another 100-yard game, marking the 16th time that he has been able to cross that threshold. While Mack had another great day running the ball, he did make one costly mistake; fumbling the ball on the ECU seven yard line and allowing the Pirates to recover the ball. Fortunately for the Bulls, ECU could not take advantage of the mistake; ending the drive in a missed 42-yard field goal attempt.
Senior quarterback Quinton Flowers arguably had an even better day than Mack; completing 21 of 29 pass attempts for 250 yards and three touchdowns. Flowers connected with senior wide receiver Rodney Adams seven times for 113 yards, including a 62-yard touchdown shot down the middle of the field that sealed the game for the Bulls. The quarterback also tossed two short passes to junior running back D’Ernest Johnson earlier in the game.
While Flowers may have had an efficient game through the air, he was also able to extend plays with his legs if needed, racking up 115 yards on 16 runs. The Bulls’ offensive line squared up against the ECU defense, not letting Flowers get sacked once throughout the game.
ECU senior wide receiver Zay Jones had yet another good game for the Pirates, hauling in 18 catches for 145 yards and a touchdown, but most of those were sent by sophomore backup quarterback Gardner Minshew. The young quarterback came in for senior Philip Nelson after both Nelson and junior offensive lineman Justin Sandifer were knocked out of the game on the same play in the third quarter.
Minshew threw for nearly as many yards a Flowers for the day, totaling 220 yards on 21 completions. The sophomore quarterback did not seem to show the same ability to escape the pocket when necessary, becoming the victim of two of three sacks that the Bulls’ defense was able to inflict.
Discipline was the Bulls number one adversary in this game. Whether it Mack’s fumble or a simple holding call, the Bulls backed themselves out of multiple scoring opportunities. USF totaled 101 yards on nine penalties for the day in comparison to the Pirates’ two penalties for only 19 yards.
“It was sloppy game; sloppy game by us, especially offensively,” said Bulls’ head coach Willie Taggart after the game. “We’re in the red zone and we get these penalties that get us behind the sticks. It was just sloppy all over and we’ve got to get those corrected if we want to be the team that we say we want to be.”
The ‘Bull Shark’ defense is what ended up making sure that USF was able to pull out of this game with a victory. At one point in the fourth quarter, with less than 10 minutes left in the game, the Bulls only had a 24-22 point lead after ECU senior running back James Summers ran in a touchdown. The Pirates were looking to tie up the score with a two point conversion, but after a timeout and a quick chat with the coaches, the Bulls stopped the resurgent ECU offense.
USF senior linebacker Nigel Harris was able to intercept the ball with less than four minutes left in the game, returning the ball for 34 yards and leading to Mack’s second rushing touchdown of the day, deflating any hope that the Pirates had of getting back into the game. That wasn’t enough for the Bulls though, as they were able to stop ECU’s last offensive drive and shoot for the end zone one last time in the last two minutes. Flowers was actually able to connect with Johnson for a third time in the end zone with one second left on the clock, but it was called back on a pass interference call against sophomore receiver Tyre McCants.
“We want to score,” said Taggart as he explained why he decided to keep the pressure on with a two score lead already. “We want to score. That’s our job on offense right? What do you want us to do? We’re not taking a knee, we want to score. We want to be an explosive offense. When we have the ball, we want to score. That’s what I told our team this week, that’s our mentality that we want to be. We want to be in attack mode all the time…We wanted to score a touchdown there.”