TAMPA — On Saturday's second play from scrimmage, USF fans watched Quinton Flowers take a snap and Quintessential Flowers take off.
Lining up in the shotgun formation, the junior quarterback took the ball, faked a bubble-screen pass, juked a pair of 300 plus-pound Connecticut defensive tackles in the backfield, sliced through a seam to his left, picked up a couple of downfield blocks and dashed down the left sideline for a 54-yard touchdown.
Jim Louk, the only radio play-by-play voice the Bulls have ever had, described it this way: "That is one of the great runs in USF football history."
By arguably the greatest player in USF football history.
There, we said it.
Matt Grothe supporters may bicker, George Selvie partisans may quibble, and Mike Jenkins constituents may protest. Let 'em. Their detractions lose a bit more steam each time Flowers gains some on a trademark zone-read gallop.
At those moments, observers aren't witnessing the greatest NFL prospect in USF history, nor are they watching the program's best passer or even the most popular Bull.
But they just might be seeing the best player, pound for pound, the school has ever known.
"Nothing seems to surprise me when it comes to Quinton," coach Willie Taggart said. "Especially when he runs the football, because he just does things you can't teach."
In only 21 career starts, Flowers already has run for 1,722 yards. With 66 yards tonight against Temple, he catapults from eighth to sixth on the school's career rushing chart.
He already owns the top three single-game rushing efforts by a Bulls quarterback and should surpass Grothe (2,206 yards) as USF's top rushing quarterback by season's end.
And while his efficiency on short throws remains a periodic affliction, he's 202 passing yards from supplanting Chad Barnhardt (4,138) for fourth on USF's all-time list. His 22 touchdown passes in 2015 were a school single-season record; he has 13 this season.
He has totaled at least 300 yards in one-third (seven) of his starts and could eclipse Grothe's school record of 15 300-yard games (in 41 starts).
And this: USF is 15-6 with Flowers as the starter.
"There's really nothing I think he can do to surprise us unless he has another trick up his sleeve," redshirt junior center Cameron Ruff said. "But Quinton, I'm always confident in his ability behind us to make the play."
Ah, the intangibles. The moxie that accompanies the mobility. The ability to ooze confidence while eliciting it from your peers — a delicate balance, to be sure.
The great ones possess such attributes. Grothe had them in bulk supply. So did B.J. Daniels and Marquel Blackwell. After Saturday's 42-27 win against UConn, Flowers was asked if he feels he's one of the nation's top dual-threat quarterbacks.
"Yeah, I feel like there's nobody better than me," he said.
The tone was more matter-of-fact than matter of flaunt, which leads to another Flowers trait: an unflappability unseen in most 22-year-olds. It's a characteristic likely honed over time, some of it hard time.
When you've already endured the shooting death of your father and a half-brother, watched your mom succumb to cancer then witnessed your girlfriend give birth to your daughter (just last month), a pick or protection breakdown probably doesn't register on the rattle meter.
"The thing I like about Quinton is, he doesn't flinch. … He doesn't want to let anyone see him sweat," Taggart said.
"You love that about him, and even when I get upset with him and yell at him and get mad, you get that same look: 'Yessir.' … I tell myself, 'Damn, I wonder if I got to him or not because he's so even-keeled.' You don't know, he don't change his emotions.
"But I think that's one of his good gifts that he has, and I think that helps our football team, because he doesn't flinch or get fluttered or anything, so they don't. They respond to how he is."
Could become trendy. Don't be shocked if the day soon arrives when a USF fan refers to Flowers as the best player ever to wear a Bulls uniform, and there's no debating, no disputing, no disparaging.
Not even flinching.
Contact Joey Knight at [email protected]