Tampa Bay Sports Day

USF: Bulls Roll Past Cincinnati, 45-20, in Conference Opener

USF used 28 unanswered points to roll past Cincinnati, 45-20, while Marlon Mack became the Bulls’ career rushing king in the conference opener Saturday night at Nippert Stadium.

“I was really excited about our defense. That’s the defense that we all like to see. Guys are going out and getting turnovers. I was really impressed with the adjustments we made at halftime and the way our guys tackled in the second half,”  said USF head coach Willie Taggart.

USF (4-1) pitched a shutout on defense for the final 33 minutes of the game and posted four takeaways. The Bulls intercepted Cincinnati starter Ross Trail three times and Johnny Ward extended USF’s pick-6 streak to consecutive seasons against Cincinnati (3-2).

USF’s Gulf Coast Offense racked up 454 yards (226 rushing) to help the program improve to 3-1 in American openers. Mack produced 118 yards and two touchdowns while becoming USF’s new career rusher with 2,755 yards. Mack broke the record with a 49-yard touchdown run that capped off the scoring in the fourth quarter.

Quarterback Quinton Flowers rushed for 74 yards and two touchdowns in just USF’s second win at Cincinnati in seven trips. Flowers also was efficient through the air, completing 16 of 26 passes for 196 yards with no interceptions against a Cincinnati defense that led the nation in picks.

Saturday’s American East Division battle was exciting from the start, with 519 combined yards of offense, 31 first downs and six lead changes in the opening half.

Emilio Nadelman’s 26-yard field goal gave the Bulls the initial lead midway through the first quarter. D’Ernest Johnson’s 4-yard touchdown run with 1:40 left in the first quarter helped spot USF a 10-6 lead and capped off the Bulls’ 15th touchdown drive of two minutes or less this season.

Momentum changed hands four more times before USF headed into the break with a 24-20 advantage.

USF took a 17-13 lead on Flowers 8-yard touchdown run with 11:07 left in a half that saw the Bulls’ dual-threat quarterback showcasing his passing skills. Flowers completed 12 of 16 attempts for 172 yards against a Cincinnati defense that came in leading the nation with 10 interceptions.

Saturday’s seesaw battle shifted back into USF’s favor thanks to Mack’s 4-yard TD run with 1:40 to go before halftime. Mack’s scoring run sparked the start of a 28-0 USF run that took the Bulls into the fourth quarter with a 38-20 lead.

Ronnie Hoggins’ third-career interception paved the way for Flowers 19-yard touchdown run with 4:29 left in the third quarter. Trail was replaced by Gunner Kiel after Ward stepped in front of his final pass and sprinted into the end zone on an 11-yard interception return.

“The first three letters in fundamentally sound spell fun. When you’re playing fundamentally sound football, it brings great results,” noted Hoggins.

Mack ran into the USF history books when he took a pitch from Flowers and zoomed to the end zone on a 49-yard touchdown run less than three minutes into the fourth quarter.

“It was a great accomplishment. I give a shout-out to my O-linemen and thank for them for letting me break this record today,” Mack said on becoming USF’s new rushing king.

Nigel Harris led USF’s stellar defensive effort with a team-high 10 tackles, while Khalid McGee hauled in one of USF’s three interceptions. Hoggins and Auggie Sanchez finished with eight tackles apiece.

USF heads back to Raymond James Stadium for its homecoming game against East Carolina on Saturday, Oct. 8. The noon game will be televised nationally on ESPNews.