For the second straight week USF sealed a win with a clutch fourth down stop in a one score game and backed up near their own end zone. Down 35-27 with about a minute and a half to play, SMU went for it on fourth and one from the Bull’s 14 yard line. A run up the middle was marked just short and after the measurement was confirmed, the celebration began as the Bulls offense came back out to run out the clock. The previous SMU drive was also brought to an abrupt stop inside the Bulls’ red zone after standout cornerback Deatrick Nichols came up with a huge interception; his second of the game and his third in two weeks.
Defense has been a major issue for the Bulls this season and the phrase, “bend but don’t break” has seemed like more of a necessity than a tendency to this point. SMU racked up 578 total yards on 89 offensive plays, and despite USF forcing two interceptions from Mustangs’ quarterback Braeden West, they were still able to reach 423 passing yards on 42 attempts, and score three touchdowns through the air. One factor that attributed to SMU’s wild yardage total though, was their time of possession. The Mustangs held onto the ball for over 36 minutes in Saturday’s game and ran 31 more offensive plays than the Bulls.
The Mustangs managed to churn out 155 yards on the ground, but that was on a whopping 47 carries for an average of just 3.3 yards per attempt. USF safety Khalid McGee was also able to break into the backfield late in the second quarter and force a fumble that was recovered by cornerback Ronnie Hoggins. The fumble recovery led to just a one play drive, giving the Bulls a 21-14 lead that they would then take into the locker room for halftime.
The Bulls will need to continue improving on the defensive side of the ball as they head into rivalry weekend to take on UCF, however the past couple of weeks have shown some major signs that the “Bull Shark” mentality that they adopted last season might still be somewhat alive and kicking.
It was a slow night, comparatively, for the Bulls quarterback Quinton Flowers. You heard that right, a game where Flowers threw three passing touchdowns was a slow night for him. Coming off of a game against Memphis in which he completed 24 of his 29 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns, he threw the ball just 15 times on Saturday, completing seven of them. Those seven passes went for 195 yards and three touchdowns, adding another 143 through the run game. Flowers also threw just his sixth interception of the year.
Marlon Mack joined in on the scoring, per usual, finding the end zone once and accounting for 129 rushing yards on 18 carries, but it was Tyre McCants who stole the show with a career performance. Entering the game against SMU, McCants had accumulated 18 catches for 254 yards and two touchdowns on the season. In his three receptions against the Mustangs, he added 105 yards to his total and doubled his scoring total, finding the end zone twice, one of them coming on a 28 yard touchdown in the second quarter before adding a huge 65 yard touchdown catch early in the third.
USF’s Gulf Coast offense once again showed their ability to make big plays, but will have to improve on third down as they head into the regular seasons’ finale and toward postseason play. The Bulls have been great on third down this season, but converted on just two of their 12 against SMU. Look for their defense to put pressure on in-state rival UCF, in what should be a game that the Bulls can try to run away with, and prove they belong in the top 25 before the season comes to a close.