Tampa Bay Sports Day

USF: Bulls Run Past Rival UCF for Record 10th Win

TAMPA – USF reached 10 wins for the first time in program history by running all over rival UCF in a 48-31 War On I-4 victory Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.

USF (10-2, 7-1) rushed for 351 yards and five touchdowns while extending its nation-leading streak of 30-plus point games to 16. Head coach Willie Taggart’s Bulls came into the weekend tied for first place in The American’s East Division.

“It was another great win for our guys. I’m really excited for our seniors to finish their last regular season game in Ray Jay with a victory. Not only with the victory, but for those guys to end their season with a 10-2 record, it’s pretty darn big-time around here,” Taggart said.

Quarterback Quinton Flowers set the program’s new season rushing record with 1,425 yards after producing 152 yards and two scores on the ground. The junior from Miami also completed 17 of 26 passes for 152 yards to set a new USF record with eight 300-yard total offense games this season.

“It’s a great feeling after everything you worked for during the summer. You just play the game and let everything come to you. Every day I go out to practice, every game, I just let the game come to me. I don’t rush anything, I let everything just happen,” Flowers said.

USF had two 100-yard rushers for the fifth time this season. Marlon Mack finished with a season-high 155 yards after breaking off touchdown runs from 43 and 56 yards out. The junior from Sarasota became the first Bull, and only the third player in Florida collegiate history, to post three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

USF’s defense also stepped up by forcing three turnovers. The takeaway train started rolling with Juwuan Brown’s 22-yard fumble recovery return that spotted the Bulls a 14-7 lead in the first quarter. Interceptions by Auggie Sanchez and senior Nate Godwin helped create a 10-point swing by the Bulls after UCF faced a 31-24 deficit in the fourth quarter.

USF headed to the locker room with a 24-14 halftime lead after a wild start to the eighth meeting between the rivals. UCF scored a touchdown on its opening drive and USF answered back in a big way on its second sequence.

Mack found some room on the outside and raced past defenders on a 43-yard touchdown run with 6:46 to play in the opening quarter. Mack’s 31st career TD run propelled the junior past 1,000 rushing yards for the third straight season. Mack and FSU’s Dalvin Cook and Warrick Dunn are the only players from Florida schools to accomplish the feat.

USF took a 14-7 lead into the second quarter thanks to a game-changing play by the Bulls’ defense. Brown scooped up a UCF fumble and rumbled 22 yards to the end zone less than two minutes after Mack’s score. It marked the second touchdown by the USF defense this season, after Johnnie Ward’s pick-6 at Cincinnati on Oct. 1.

Brandon Behr’s first-career field goal from 33 yards out padded the lead and USF extended it to 24-7 with more Mack Attack. USF’s star back broke five tackles on a 56-yard touchdown run with 5:36 remaining in the half. Mack has seven 100-yard rushing games this season and 20 in his career.

“I had a little angry in me. A lot of guys on their team, they were trash talking as the play was going on, so I had a little angry in me,” Mack said.

UCF used a trick play to score a touchdown 22 seconds after Mack’s touchdown, but the Bulls ended up ruling the first half. USF outrushed UCF, 194-24, in the first two quarters while the Knights converted just one of nine third-down attempts. UCF finished with only 64 rushing yards on 35 carries.

USF did more damage on the ground at the start of the second half, this time by the legs of Flowers. USF’s dual-threat QB secured his ninth 100-yard game with a 62-yard touchdown run less than a minute into the action.

UCF cut its deficit to 31-24 by the end of the third quarter before the Bulls’ defense stepped up again in the fourth. Sanchez picked off a pass and returned it 19 yards to the UCF 24 with 8:45 remaining. One play later, Flowers helped boost the USF lead up 38-24 with a 24-yard touchdown run. USF has 10 one-play scoring drives this season.

On his senior day, Godwin intercepted a pass on UCF’s next drive that helped set up Behr’s 30-yard field goal, which pumped the USF advantage up to 41-24 with 4:20 to play.

D’Ernest Johnson capped off the scoring with a 1-yard touchdown run with 11 seconds left. The score helped the Bulls rack up 500 total yards and set the program’s new record for total yards in a season (6,181). USF leads the FBS with 44 rushing touchdowns this year.

Defensively, senior Nigel Harris posted a game-high 11 tackles. Senior Daniel Awoleke registered one of USF’s three sacks while Kirk Livingstone had a sack and two of the Bulls’ seven tackles for loss. Impact plays by the defense helped limit UCF to five conversions on 17 third-down attempts.

“It’s hard to win football games. Not too long ago, wins came pretty darn hard around here. For our guys to go out here and get 10 wins this season, it’s big-time, it’s huge,” added Taggart.

USF will be making its eighth bowl trip and second consecutive postseason appearance

GAME NOTES: UCF converted five of 17 third-down conversion attempts. UCF went 1-for-9 on third down in the first half…. USF set a program record for the most victories in one season. The Bulls had nine victories in the regular season two other times — 2002 (9-2, no bowl) and 2007 (9-4, lost in the Sun Bowl). USF also finished the 2006 season (9-4) with nine victories by winning its bowl game….the Bulls have five rushing touchdowns. It has an FBS-leading 44 rushing touchdowns this season.