No. 18 USF dazzles on offense in 61-31 thumping of East Carolina

South Florida's Quinton Flowers (9) scores a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against East Carolina in Greenville, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker) NCKD104
South Florida's Quinton Flowers (9) scores a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against East Carolina in Greenville, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker) NCKD104
Published Oct. 1, 2017

GREENVILLE, N.C. — As college football nudges closer to an any-given-Saturday stratosphere, one might presume the term "trap game" would become as obsolete as the rotary phone.

So why was USF dialing up the 2016 version of its defense Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium?

In a retro-style performance that likely elicited as much nervousness as nostalgia among USF fans, the No. 18 Bulls found their blowout of East Carolina preceded by a shootout.

Yet in the end, order was restored. Before an announced crowd of 34,883, the Bulls (5-0, 2-0 AAC) allowed ECU (1-4, 1-1) only seven points after halftime and churned out a season-high 390 rushing yards in a 61-31 triumph.

"It was a great offensive effort," coach Charlie Strong said. "I told our team just a few minutes ago, when our quarterback goes, the whole team goes."

In his latest dual-threat gem, senior Quinton Flowers totaled 253 yards, running untouched up the middle for a 16-yard touchdown and throwing for two more scores. Before halftime, he had helped assure USF of its 22nd consecutive game of at least 30 points, one shy of the Division I-A record for the Associated Press poll era (since 1936), set by Oregon in 2011-12.

At times, it appeared USF would need every sliver of yardage it could elicit from its dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate.

Nine days after holding Temple to 85 total yards, the Bulls often made ECU senior quarterback Thomas Sirk resemble Thomas Brady.

By halftime, the graduate transfer from Duke had thrown for 204 of his 302 yards, including a Tebow-style double-pump 2-yard scoring pass to tight end Stephen Baggett on the first half's final play that cut USF's halftime lead to 31-24.

"The key thing, we had to stop the quarterback run," said Strong, who watched Sirk run for 66 of his 87 yards in the first half. "He was the reason why they were able to drive the ball. We'd call a defense, and we weren't getting the spill on the edge, and then the ball was getting downhill."

Sirk's fourth-down proficiency continued on East Carolina's first possession of the second half. Twelve plays after Flowers' 14-yard scoring pass to Tyre McCants, Sirk dove across the plane on fourth and goal from the USF 1-yard line, capping a 73-yard drive and cutting USF's lead to 38-31.

To that point, Sirk was nearly as effective outside the red zone, completing several downfield throws under duress. His 44-yarder to Jimmy Williams on third and 9 set up a first-quarter field goal, and his 31-yard touchdown pass to Davon Grayson cut USF's lead to 14-10.

"We've just got to blitz better," said senior middle linebacker Auggie Sanchez, who scored on a 43-yard interception return late in the first half.

"I think when you start talking about the (single coverage), it's because we're pressuring. We didn't get there today much, so we've got to get our pass rush better, we've got to get our blitzes better."

In the end, Sirk remained the second-most dynamic quarterback on the field.

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After Sirk's 1-yard scoring dive, Flowers capped an 11-play, 75-yard drive with a 4-yard scoring toss to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, giving USF a 45-31 lead. On the possession, Flowers was 3-of-4 for 35 yards.

"That was a time where I talked to myself and I told myself, 'I have to score. We have to score on offense,' " Flowers said. "ECU is a good team, and you saw they were out there playing and they were scoring, too."

Valdes-Scantling, who also scored on a 75-yard jet sweep in the first half, had his best game of 2017 (six catches, 94 yards, one receiving touchdown). Senior D'Ernest Johnson led the ground effort with 111 yards on 16 carries.

"This is a very resilient group, played well on the road," Strong said. "It's tough to win on the road, but for us to come in here and get the victory and not play great, it was really good for our team."

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.