TAMPA — Ten months have elapsed since Quinton Flowers took his final snap for USF, but who are we kidding? Ten years from now, his name will resonate on campus, eliciting hearty grins and high-def images of improvisational flair.
So why were Bulls fans cringing at 'Q' references earlier this week? Why is the mere mention of USF's career total-yardage king suddenly inducing nausea instead of nostalgia?
Because the Bulls (7-0, 3-0) are about to face a quarterback who — as dual threats go — might be a dead ringer for Flowers.
With one exception: Houston 5-foot-11 junior D'Eriq King is a more efficient passer.
"It's almost (like) playing against Quinton," Bulls coach Charlie Strong said.
"He kinda reminds me of somebody that we practiced against every day last year," senior Ronnie Hoggins added.
Anyone who watched Flowers dash, dart and fling his way into USF immortality realizes no higher praise can be given a Bulls foe. Yet here were USF's coach and veteran nickel back all but calling King a Flowers clone.
Saturday, in a critical American Athletic Conference matchup before a national TV audience, they must try to neutralize him. Problem is, the Bulls mostly have struggled to contain QBs bearing even a remote resemblance to Flowers, much less a striking one.
"He's good enough where he can outrun you, and he's quick enough to get out of the pocket," Strong said. "And then if you turn loose a receiver, he's gonna be able to find him. He's made some very impressive throws, and they've been deep balls, so it's gonna be tough. We're gonna have to contain him."
The 2018 version of King is far more refined than the one USF encountered last October, when the onetime Cougars receiver (a 10,000-yard passer in high school) was inserted midway through the first quarter and essentially willed Houston to a 28-24 victory.
King has been UH's starter since, compiling an 8-3 record. He finished last season completing nearly 65 percent of his passes (90-for-139) for a 154.63 efficiency rating, and averaged 5.3 yards a carry (72 carries, 379 yards, eight touchdowns).
This season, he's 140-for-220 (63.6 percent) for 1,983 yards, 23 touchdowns and three interceptions. His efficiency rating (171.1) is best in the AAC, and he's still averaging nearly 5 yards per rushing attempt (57 carries, 281 yards, nine touchdowns).
Moreover, he's responsible for 27.7 points per game, most of any Division I-A player.
"He's been dynamic in every aspect," Bulls defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary said.
"If you really look at the numbers, he's probably been a better passer than he's been a runner. He's still a dynamic runner, but he's letting the guys around him kind of carry the load for him as far as doing the heavy lifting. And they have some…outstanding receivers that he's very confident in."
Now, only a week after Connecticut quarterback David Pindell gashed the Bulls for 197 rushing yards, the Bulls face King with somewhat of a revised lineup.
Veteran middle linebacker Nico Sawtelle (shoulder) is expected to miss his second consecutive game, meaning onetime defensive end Greg Reaves makes his second start in his place. A respected veteran, Reaves acknowledged struggling with run fits against UConn, though for USF, that issue transcends one player and one game.
This season, six opposing quarterbacks have averaged at least 4 yards on 10 or more carries against the Bulls. King, whose offense is steeped in motion and misdirection, could be No. 7.
Bulls fans will settle for him not resembling No. 9. Their No. 9. The Bulls simply can't afford to let King go all Quinton on them.
"We didn't do a great job (with run fits) last week with a running quarterback, so obviously that's been a point of emphasis this week as dynamic as Houston's offense is," Jean-Mary said.
"They're a big-time misdirection team, and they have guys that can hurt you going in all different directions, so reading our keys and our eye discipline's gonna be very big this week."
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.
No. 21 USF at Houston, 3:30
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