Bulls blow Mids away
Navy falls behind by 28 in first quarter, gives up 629 yards; comeback falls short
TAMPA, FLA. — Few would have ever imagined that a failure to convert a fourth-and-1 on its opening possession would turn the tide against Navy in its American Athletic Conference game with South Florida on Friday night.
The Bulls’ offense was on fire, and that early turnover on downs just shy of midfield only added fuel to the flames.
Quarterback Quinton Flowers used his arm and feet to make the defense look silly as South Florida defeated No. 22 Navy, 52-45, at Raymond James Stadium. Flowers accounted for 395 yards of offense and four touchdowns as the Bulls handed the Midshipmen their first conference loss. Tailbacks Marlon Mack and D’Ernest Johnson and wide receivers Rodney Adams and Tyre McCants also played prominent roles as South Florida scored touchdowns on six straight possessions to start the game and never looked back. Johnson (107) also contributed as the Bulls set a single-game school record with 412 rushing yards.
Flowers completed 19 of 29 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns for USF (7-2, 4-1), which rebounded from a 16-point loss to Temple the previous Friday night. The dynamic dual-threat quarterback also ran Jacksonville, Fla. Saturday, 11:30 a.m. TV: Chs. 13, 9 Radio: 1090 AM, 1430 AM Line: TBA
for 176 yards and two scores for the Bulls, who led 45-14 early in the fourth quarter.
Mack rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown for South Florida, which led 42-14 at halftime. The Bulls, who took their foot off the pedal in the second half, piled up 629 total yards.
“We ran into a buzz saw tonight. They just had so many things going. Between Flowers, Mack and Adams on the edge — they presented so many problems. We had a hard time stopping them,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “Then we sputtered early on offense, which made things worse. Our game plan was always to eat the clock and keep them off the field, but we weren’t able to do that.”
Niumatalolo was asked what made the South Florida offense more difficult to stop than those of Houston and Memphis. He said the across-the-board speed of the Bulls was the difference.
“We’ve played some teams that were fast, but they just stretch you out in so many ways and have so many speed guys that can hurt you. They’re a tough team with a great [offensive] scheme and present a lot of issues for you defensively,” Niumatalolo said. “We had a hard time tackling them on the perimeter. We had a hard time tackling them inside. We had our fingers in a lot of different holes, but the ship kept sinking.”
Quarterback Will Worth set a singlegame school record with 428 total yards and accounted for four touchdowns to lead Navy (5-2, 4-1), which outscored South Florida 31-10 in the second half to make the final score respectable. Slotback Toneo Gulley rushed for 60 yards and two touchdowns for the Mids, who will likely fall out of the national rankings as a result of the blowout.
Flowers broke loose for a 63-yard touchdown run on the fourth play from scrimmage and that was a foreshadowing of things to come. The 6-foot, 209-pound junior, who runs with power and speed, burst up the middle on a draw and was never touched in giving the home team the lead with just 1:11 elapsed.
Flowers suffered a hamstring injury late in the loss to Temple and did not practice until Wednesday. Niumatalolo said the Mids were wondering about the health of the strong, speedy signal-caller.
“We weren’t really sure where Flowers was at with his hamstring. Unfortunately, we found out real quick that his hamstring was fine,” Niumatalolo said.
It briefly appeared it would be a case of South Florida’s quick-strike spread offense against Navy’s methodical triple-option attack. Fullback Chris High sandwiched runs of 9 and 8 yards around a 10-yard gain by Worth to set up the Mids with a second-and-2 situation from their own 48-yard line.
However, Worth managed just 1 yard on second down while High was stuffed for no gain on third as the drive rapidly unraveled. Niumatalolo chose to go for it on fourth-and-1 and Worth was thrown for a 2-yard loss by linebacker Nigel Harris.
Niumatalolo was asked afterward whether he went for it on fourth down in his own territory on Navy’s opening possession because he felt a need to keep pace with South Florida.
“Yes. We kind of figured that going in. We knew we had to match scores. We didn’t want to fall too far behind,” said Niumatalolo, noting that Navy missed a blocking assignment and “turned a guy loose right at the point of attack” on the fourth-down play. “That game was more than one play. They had almost 700 yards of offense. We had to find a way to slow them down.”
Handed a short field, South Florida took advantage with Johnson bursting up the middle and scoring on a 23-yard run to make it 14-0 midway through the first period.
Navy picked up just one first down before having to punt on its second possession and South Florida needed only one play to increase its lead to 21-0. Mack lined up as a wide receiver, came in motion to take a handoff, cut upfield through a big hole and easily outraced several chasing defenders for an 85-yard touchdown run.
The Midshipmen went three-and-out on their third possession and that basically sealed their fate. Flowers found tight end Elkanah Dillon running wide open down the middle of the field for a 41-yard scoring strike that made it 28-0 and put the visitors in serious catch-up mode.
“It’s frustrating. We gave them a 28point lead and it’s tough to come back against a talented team like that,” Worth said.
Bulls running back Marlon Mack, right, celebrates with offensive lineman Eric Mayes after scoring on a 85-yard touchdown run.