EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — Fresh off its first loss in more than a calendar year, USF regained a few shots of swagger and mojo — maybe even a ranking — with Saturday's 37-20 victory against struggling Connecticut.
The next couple of days will indicate whether any pollsters were swayed. What's more certain is that many previously disgruntled fans likely were appeased.
Maligned (and periodically booed) for a predictable, power-based offensive game plan in their 28-24 loss to Houston, the Bulls (8-1, 5-1 American Athletic Conference) diversified more — and totaled 602 yards — on a crisp autumn afternoon before an announced Pratt & Whitney Stadium crowd of 18,430.
"I talked to the (seniors) before the game … I told 'em we've got to get our edge back," said quarterback Quinton Flowers, who broke his own school single-game record with 516 total yards and became only the fourth AAC player ever to eclipse 500 in one contest.
"And those guys came out to play (Saturday). You could see that what we did on offense and what the guys did on defense … that's what you want to see in your team, and that's what we did tonight."
The defense, which allowed 49 total second-half points in its previous two games, held the Huskies (3-6, 2-4) to 324 total yards, and 13 points after intermission. Safety and East Lake High alumnus Devin Abraham was one of three Bulls with 10 tackles, while tackle and former Robinson star Bruce Hector had 11/2 sacks and a forced fumble.
Additionally, senior Emilio Nadelman hit three field goals, including a career-best 51-yarder.
"Really a good job of bouncing back from last week after that loss," coach Charlie Strong said. "You don't ever want one loss to lead to another; we couldn't let that game beat us twice. And for us to come out and play the way we played this evening, it was really great."
But Saturday was about the offense showing some much-demanded flair.
The fact that Flowers brandished a sleekness circa 2016 stood to reason; he said the Bulls installed some plays that worked against the Huskies last season. He finished 24-of-37 for 385 yards and three touchdowns, finishing 24 yards shy of B.J. Daniels' six-year-old single-game passing yardage record.
In the process, he also became only the seventh Division I-A player to reach 7,000 passing and 3,000 rushing yards for a career.
"Quinton being Quinton," senior wideout Marquez Valdes-Scantling said.
"It's amazing because I just don't think that he gets all the credit that he deserves," Strong said.
"Look at tonight, look at what he did. … It kind of gets hidden because everybody expects that all the time. But to watch him go out and perform the way he performed tonight, it just shows you how good he is."
A Lakewood alumnus, Valdes-Scantling (six catches, 152 yards) was Flowers' prime beneficiary, notching his second consecutive 100-yard receiving effort.
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With 17 seconds to play in the third quarter , Valdes-Scantling turned a short Flowers toss on an out pattern into a 95-yard touchdown dash, giving the Bulls a 34-7 lead.
Noteworthy about the play: It occurred on first down.
USF, which ran on 22 of its 37 first-down plays (and netted 15 yards) against Houston, mixed it up Saturday. On USF's first touchdown drive, ending with a 1-yard D'Ernest Johnson run, Flowers connected with Valdes-Scantling (for 26 yards) and receiver Tyre McCants (for 19) on consecutive first-down plays.
For the game, USF called 17 runs and 18 passes on first down. The runs netted 80 yards, while Flowers went 13-of-18 for 237 yards and a touchdown on the passes.
"Just taking advantage of what they gave us," Strong said.
"With their corners, they were playing very far off. They didn't want to give us a big home run ball, so they backed off of us. And Q did a really good job of throwing the ball tonight. You think about last week, a lot of those throws were high, they were outside, they were low.
"But tonight he put it on 'em."
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.