By: Chuck Muller
Like most in the Bay Area in the wake of Hurricane Irma, the Bulls found themselves on track to getting back to normal on Friday night with a 47-23 win over the University of Illinois.
On a night that saw #21 USF(3-0) host over 3,000 youth football players and over 2,000 first responders from across the state of Florida, both the Bulls and Illini would get off to sluggish starts after kickoff was setback following a 35-minute rain delay.
Receiving the opening kickoff, USF would take their opening possession into Illinois territory only to be held to a 36-yard field goal attempt from senior kicker Emilio Nadelman that was blocked by Illinois after USF’s first penalty of the evening caused Nadelman to retry and miss to keep the Bulls off the board.
The penalty would only be the first what would be the theme of the first half for USF.
Unable to cash in on their first of nine trips to the Illinois redzone, the Bulls would get the scoring started with a 39-yard touchdown pass from senior Quinton Flowers to junior wide receiver Deangelo Antonine after forcing the Illini to go three-and-out on their opening possession.
The Bulls would concede two points on the extra point after Illinois was able to block a second attempt for the point and return it for the conversion to give USF a 6-2 advantage with 8:20 to go in the first.
This would be as close as the Illini would get to the Bulls.
On the second play of the following Illinois possession, USF senior defensive tackle Deadrin Senat was called for his second targeting personal foul called against him while bringing down redshirt junior quarterback Chayce Crouch. This was Senat’s second targeting foul in the season’s opening three weeks and was ejected following an official review.
“It’s tough for him to leave that early in the game,” USF head coach Charlie Strong said.
“He’s a senior and you want him to go play well. But we will have a chance to look at it tomorrow. In the end, it is football. You don’t want to see anyone take a big time hit where they have leave the game or a guy hit him and he hits him with the crown of his head. But, it’s the way we have to teach them.”
The Bulls would respond with a 29-yard field goal to end the first quarter and a 10-yard touchdown run from senior running back Darius Tice to begin the second frame to push the score to 16-2 with 9:12 remaining in the second.
The teams would trade touchdowns on back-to-back drives to end the opening half, with USF leading 16-9 at halftime.
The Bulls would find pay dirt on the opening drive of the second half, as Flowers was able to find senior wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling sliding across the front-left pylon for 17-yard touchdown to push the USF lead to 30-9 only 3:47 into the third quarter.
From there, the route of the Illini was on.
Illinois would find itself benching Crouch in the third quarter in favor of sophomore Jeff George Jr after the Illinois offense failed to muster over 100 total offensive yards in the first half.
Offensively for the Bulls, the 24-point victory was closer to the offensive juggernaut run by former USF and now Oregon head coach Willie Taggart last season.
The 680 total yards amassed against the Illini is the second most gained on an opponent in a single game, only outdone by a 70-17 victory against Florida A&M in 2011 where the Bulls piled up 745 yards from scrimmage against the Rattlers.
For Flowers, it was back to what was expected of him entering the 2017 campaign as a dark-horse for the Heisman Trophy for the nation’s most outstanding player. The senior would account for 386 yards from scrimmage and 5 touchdowns on the night.
“I just went back out there being myself just playing the game I love,” Flowers said.
“The guys love seeing that, the guys love when I do that. So, whatever it takes for my team to win.”
Flowers’ lone rushing touchdown gives him 32 for his career, tying him with former USF running back Marlon Mack for most rushing scores in program history.
In Friday night’s win against Illinois, USF would combine for 376 yards on the ground, with Flowers, Tice, and senior running back D’Earnest Johnson each rush for over 100 yards.
Although the Bulls would play relatively cleaner in the second half, USF would finish with 16 penalties for 140 total yards.
The victory stands as the second most penalized game for the Bulls in program history behind a 45-44 home overtime win over TCU back on September 25th, 2004, when the Bulls would commit 18 penalties for 164 yards.
The victory also marks the first for USF against a Big-Ten program in school history. The Bulls were previously 0-4 against the conference.
The Bulls’ home stand continues as they host the Temple Owls(2-0) this Thursday night from Raymond James Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7p.