South Florida Bulls Win Uninspired Homecoming Game Over Cincinnati
On a day meant for partying, the 18th ranked South Florida Bulls looked to be out of sorts and sloppy. The only thing that saved them from joining the Clemson and Washington State’s of this weekend was their talent and a timely 65-yard interception return to end the first half in a 33-3 win over the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Nobody expected this, or maybe they did. The Bulls handily beat up East Carolina 61-31 two weeks ago before receiving a bye week. The rest, coupled with homecoming week festivities, obviously had an effect on the players who looked to be going through the motions for much of this game.
The Bulls first quarter woes continued. Outside of the running game, there was limited offense. Therefore, the Bearcats were able to keep pace on the field and scoreboard. The only scoring came off the legs of each teams kicker. For South Florida, it was a 39-yard field goal from senior Emilio Nadelman. Cincinnati’s came via a 30 yarder from Ryan Jones.
As the game moved into the second quarter, the Bulls began to find their rhythm. Nadelman hit a 28-yard field goal to start things off. Then, after a long drive by the Bearcats stalled, Jones’ 39-yard attempt sailed wide left to give the ball back to the Bulls. Wasting no time, D’Ernest Johnson and Quinton Flowers methodically moved the ball downfield before getting stalled at the 4-yard line. They could have gambled by going for it on fourth down but ultimately decided not to, choosing instead to put faith in their senior kicker. After a rocky start to the 2017 season that’s paid off, with Nadelman going 4-for-4 this game and 13 straight without missing.
Late in the first half, the South Florida Bulls finally put some distance between themselves and the Bearcats. It began and ended with the defense, but the offense pitched in as well. After a defensive stop forced Cincinnati to punt, South Florida used a mix of run and pass to score their first touchdown of the night. Senior Darius Tice received the honors, a result of an 11-yard run, but the biggest moment came one play earlier. That was when Flowers hooked up with fellow senior Temi Alaka for a 37 yard gain. Not to be outdone, the defense came up huge on the final play of the half. With Cincinnati granted a free play thanks to an offside penalty, captain Auggie Sanchez came up with the play of the game, intercepting Bearcats quarterback Hayden Moore and running 65 yards to the house.
In the second half, the Bulls offense continued to sputter. They did manage to score a touchdown on their second possession, but it was by no means easy. Using a combination of Flowers’ throwing and Tice running, they got down to Cincinnati’s two-yard line. That’s where the drive looked to stall. A decision to go for it on 4th and 1 from the one paid off though, as Flowers barely crossed the goal line to make it 30-3. Nadelman then put the finishing touches on things, connecting from 24 yards out early in the fourth quarter.
Flowers finished 16 of 29 passing for 184 yards and no touchdowns. He added 15 rushes for 80 yards and one touchdown. Tice and Johnson combined to finish with 32 rushes for 108 yards and one touchdown. For Cincinnati, Moore was 16 of 28 for 147 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception.
Glancing at the schedule, the South Florida Bulls must clean some areas up. Penalties and execution offensively, mainly in the red zone, should remain top priorities if this team has dreams of winning the American Athletic Conference crown and potentially qualifying for a New Years Six bowl.
South Florida travels to Tulane for another AAC matchup next Saturday. The game is at 7 pm and will be televised on ESPN2. Cincinnati returns home to host SMU for their homecoming. That will be a 4 pm kickoff on ESPNU.