The Bulls won 45 to 20 last night over Cincinnati to improve to 4-1 (1-0) on the year. The first half was not pretty but the Bulls were able to get it together and dominated the rest of the way.
I’m switching it up a bit this week and starting this break down with special teams. While the Bearcats had a few solid kick returns, the real hero here was punter Jonathan Hernandez. Hernandez punted the ball 6 times, averaging around 40 yards per kick and landed 3 of them inside the 20 yard line, pinning the Bearcats deep several times. Hernandez has been solid over the past few weeks and was a weapon again helping shift the field position in favor of the Bulls throughout this game.
Now, let’s switch to the offense. The Bulls came out kind of slow to start the game on the first drive and there were some questions in the play selection, but after that, USF turned on the jets. The Bulls totaled 454 total yards for the game including 226 yards on the ground and were 5 for 6 in the red zone. The Bull had 32 minutes of possession and had zero turnovers in the game, which was a key number. Quinton Flowers had a great game, going 16 for 26 for 196 yards and rushed it 13 times for 72 yards and two touchdowns. Flowers took over late in the game and picked up huge scores running the ball. Marlon Mack had 20 carries for 118 yards and scored two rushing touchdowns including a 49-yard run to become the all time leading rusher in program history, passing Andre Hall in the history books (incredible). D’Ernest Johnson had a rushing touchdown and Trevon Sands had 3 carries as the Bulls dominated the ground game. Rodney Adams led the way for the Bulls with 6 receptions for 66 yards but a ton of others got involved. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Kano Dillon, Stanley Clerveaux and even Alex Mut all caught a pass as the offense spread it out. The bad news for the unit was Bill Atterbury leaving the game in the first half with an apparent knee injury, hurting the offensive line for what could be some time (it looked bad).
Finally, let’s talk about the defense. In the first half, things were not going so well. Cincinnati was running all over and around the Bulls defenders, bringing back those bad memories from a week ago. Ross Trail would then hit all his targets as the defense looked like it had not made any adjustments. After 30 minutes, the Bearcats were averaging 6.5 yards per play and it was getting frustrating to watch. However, the Bulls cleaned it up in the second half, taking away those easy running lanes and making it tougher for Trail and then Gunner Kiel to hit their their targets in the passing game. While the defense slowed the Bearcats down, it was the turnovers they forced that made the real impact in this game. The Bull Sharks had two interceptions, including one taken back for a touchdown by Johnny Ward that really turned things around (also forced a take away as well). When this unit was at its best last year, they were disruptive and forced key turnovers. They did that in this game, turning in 14 points off of the turnovers. Nigel Harris led all tacklers with 10 tackles, broke up a pass and recovered a fumble. Ronnie Hoggins had 8 tackles and an interceptions. Auggie Sanchez had 8 tackles and Kirk Livingstone had his best career game with 5 tackles including 2 tackles for loss. This unit started the game bad but got it tightened up, made adjustments, and played more like the Bull Sharks we know them as.
There were many things going on last night. Fans were left frustrated at times, then engulfed with excitement just moments later. The defense is still working to get better and while offense seems to be right on schedule. At the end of the day, the Bulls won by 25 points on the road in the conference opener, which is pretty great. Any complaining we have should be taken with a grain of salt. Now the Bulls return home for homecoming with ECU coming to town on Saturday afternoon. Let’s hope they continue to learn, get healthy, and get ready for this next game.
by Matt Staton
SoFloBulls.com Columnist | @USFMatt
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