CINCINNATI — Twenty-seven games after bursting into USF's consciousness on a humid September night in 2014, junior tailback Marlon Mack crossed another threshold on a crisp October evening.
Today, he resides in Bulls immortality.
With his parents watching from a front-row seat near the 20-yard line of Nippert Stadium, Mack became USF's career rushing leader with a 49-yard, fourth-quarter scoring run that sealed the Bulls' 45-20 victory against Cincinnati.
"He used the L1 button on that one. You know, PlayStation," Bulls coach Willie Taggart said. "He did the L1 button, made the (linebacker) miss and just took it to the house. I love the fact of how he did it."
Mack, who finished with 118 yards, has 2,755 in 28 career games. The former record-holder, Dixie Hollins alumnus Andre Hall, amassed 2,731 in 23.
It was the culmination of a mostly sparkling effort for the Bulls (4-1, 1-0 American Athletic Conference) on a sublime night: 65 degrees at kickoff.
All of which proved one thing: Even when temperatures are ideal for the Bulls, tackling isn't. If last weekend's loss to Florida State was a signal of USF's defensive issues, Saturday's first half was a sobering reminder.
USF surrendered 272 first-half yards to the AAC's ninth-ranked offense, letting the hosts (3-2, 0-2) score touchdowns three times in a four-possession span.
"We weren't communicating," senior cornerback Johnny Ward said. "We weren't lining up quick enough; they were trying to go a little tempo. And we weren't wrapping up."
An audible halftime lecture from first-year coordinator Raymond Woodie ensued. USF allowed 121 second-half yards, forcing three consecutive turnovers at one point. The highlight: an 11-yard interception return by Ward for his first touchdown "since peewee."
"I didn't say anything to 'em, Coach Woodie talked to 'em, and whatever he said to 'em, it worked," Taggart said.
In the wake of the FSU loss, in which USF went nine consecutive possessions without a point, Quinton Flowers and Co. totaled 454 yards with no turnovers.
The Bulls scored on three of their first four possessions to take a 17-13 lead less than 19 minutes in. At that point, Flowers, who became a father for the first time on Monday, was 9-of-11 for 106 yards, with completions to five different receivers. He wound up 16-for-26 for 196 yards.
"I thought Quinton having a baby (daughter) was one of the best things for us," Taggart said. "He was able to relax now and not have to worry about whether the baby's gonna come or not. I thought that was really weighing on him heavily the last couple of weeks."
The defensive sightings finally followed.
Veteran defensive lineman Daniel Awoleke sacked redshirt freshman Ross Trail to push UC out of field-goal range late in the first half. And 305-pound nose tackle Deadrin Senat stuffed Trail for a 2-yard loss on third and 1 early in the third.
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And of course, there was Ward's pick-six, giving USF a 38-20 lead with 1:32 left in the third.
Mack picked off Hall shortly thereafter.
"It feels great, man," Mack said. "It's a great feeling. Thanks to my O-line for the last few years, blocking for me, doing a good job in what they do."