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USF not perfect but plenty good enough in stroll past Towson

USF running back Darius Tice, left, celebrates his 43-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter with teammate Tyre McCants. The score gives the Bulls a 7-0 lead.
USF running back Darius Tice, left, celebrates his 43-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter with teammate Tyre McCants. The score gives the Bulls a 7-0 lead.
Published Sep. 4, 2016

TAMPA

Contrary to the debuts of some of its American Athletic Conference peers, USF's 2016 unveiling Saturday was neither mediocre (i.e., UConn, Cincinnati), monumental (i.e., Houston) nor miserable (i.e., Temple). • A more fitting adjective: methodical. • Before a robust Raymond James Stadium crowd announced at 35,976, the Bulls delivered the goods amid some glitches in a 56-20 victory against Towson, which arrived from Division I-AA's upper tier for its inaugural game in Florida. • To be sure, USF must clean up some things before No. 4 Florida State, much less the Big 12, comes calling, but the sleekness and star power it has trumpeted during one of its most hyped preseasons ever mostly materialized on a humid opening night.

"I think we came out and we played really well," said quarterback Quinton Flowers, whose team scored three touchdowns in the last 10 minutes of the third quarter. "We were kind of rusty, you know, first game. We had to get all the bubble guts and everything out, but we came out in the second half and we were ready to play."

Flowers was, well, Flowers (224 total yards, four total touchdowns). His 51-yard scoring pass to N.C. State transfer Marquez Valdes-Scantling was the stuff of single-coverage beauty.

"It was exhilarating," said Valdes-Scantling, a Lakewood High alumnus who hadn't appeared in a college game since the 2014 Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl.

But the play that epitomized Flowers' elusiveness came with 5:32 to play in the third. Bottled up in the pocket and in the apparent grasp of a defender on first and goal from the 7, Flowers switched the ball from his left to right arm, somehow escaped and dashed to the left pylon for a score.

Not to be upstaged, his backup, redshirt freshman Brett Kean (5-for-7, 52 yards), found D'Ernest Johnson for a 23-yard scoring strike on his first college throw.

Defensively? Senior outside linebacker Nigel Harris might have had his best game, notching a sack and 49-yard interception return in the first half, while his unit held the Tigers to 292 total yards and mostly neutralized two-time 1,000-yard rusher Darius Victor (23 carries, 70 yards).

But the rout wasn't bereft of smudges.

"I thought the first half we weren't sharp at all, especially offensively," coach Willie Taggart said.

In its debut under new defensive coordinator Raymond Woodie, the Bulls let Towson convert on five of six fourth-down tries.

Elsewhere, Flowers was intercepted over the middle, and tailback Marlon Mack fumbled on a run after a hit that left him with an apparent shoulder injury.

Mack finished with 58 yards on nine carries, observing the second half in warmups. "He's good," Taggart said. "He took a good hit but he got up and when I got to the locker room he was good and told me, 'I'm cool, Coach.' "

A sidelined Mack, however briefly, likely was the evening's most disconcerting sight for Bulls fans. The other bothersome ones (muffed coverages and turnovers) can be rectified.

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If they are, methodical can segue into monumental.

Or perhaps even magical.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com.

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