South Florida Loses Heartbreaker To Houston Cougars

South Florida Bulls wide receiver reacts after the game against the Houston Cougars at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

In a game dominated mainly by defense, one play made all the difference in the South Florida Bulls heartbreaking 28-24 loss to the Houston Cougars. The loss halted the Bulls NCAA record 12 game winning streak, while also handing them their first blemish of the 2017 season.

Both teams started fairly slow, with no scoring in the first frame. In fact, the two teams combined for seven first downs, a total that nearly equaled the number of punts (six) in the opening quarter. The Bulls first sustained drive didn’t occur until nine minutes had passed. Buoyed by an offsides penalty on the Cougars which gave them a free first down, Darius Tice and Quinton Flowers combined to get South Florida down to the 11 yard line. A decision to go for it on 4th and 1 backfired though, as Tice was stopped inches short of the line to gain. That looked to give Houston a little momentum on the surface, but a false start penalty coupled with a two yard sack by defensive end Mike Love quickly snuffed that out.

The Bulls offense finally got in on the act early in the second quarter. Largely thanks to a fourth down stop by their defense, Tice carried the majority of the load in getting South Florida down to the Cougars 2-yard line. D’Ernest Johnson took it from there, converting a 4th and 2 into a touchdown. That gave the Bulls a 7-0 lead they took into the locker room at halftime.

Coming out of the half, each team looked to have stepped their game up. The Cougars got the ball first and wasted no time, methodically moving the ball downfield. Quarterback D’Eriq King was the catalyst, using a mix of run and pass. The big play was King’s 39 yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Courtney Lark, tying the score. The Bulls quickly answered back, with the triple threat of Flowers, Johnson and Tice carrying the load. Flowers’ three yard rushing touchdown broke a deadlock, giving South Florida a 14-7 advantage. The lead didn’t last long, with Houston coming right back to tie things at 14 courtesy of Mulbah Car’s four yard touchdown.

That set the stage for an exciting final quarter. In a final frame that went back-and-forth, the Bulls began by scoring a one yard touchdown to give themselves a 21-14 lead. Following the second half theme, that didn’t faze Houston. The Cougars countered with a three yard touchdown run by King to tie the score once again.

With the defenses making adjustments, the offenses had to find new ways to create plays. The Bulls did that to an extent, driving to the 18 yard line before the drive stalled. Kicker Emilio Nadelman made a 30 yarder to give South Florida a 24-21 lead late in the fourth quarter. That set the stage for the defense to make a stand, thus ending the game. Unfortunately, after forcing the Cougars into a 4th and 24 play, they made a mental mistake that proved costly. By going for the interception and not knocking the ball down, they not only gave up the first down but also the game. That fourth down conversion set the stage for King’s 20 yard touchdown, giving them a 28-24 lead with 11 seconds remaining in the game.

Flowers finished 23 of 38 passing for 325 yards and no touchdowns. He added 14 rushes for seven yards and two touchdowns. Tice and Johnson combined to rush 40 times for 124 yards and one touchdown. For Houston, King went 12 of 20 passing for 137 yards and one touchdown. He also rushed 20 times for 83 yards and two scores.

Glancing at the schedule, the South Florida Bulls still have their goals in front of them. Win out and they can play in the American Athletic Conference championship game. They just need to clamp down defensively and figure out a way to score touchdowns in the red zone. For that matter, they must realize games begin in the first quarter, not the second or after.

South Florida travels to Connecticut next Saturday in a game postponed from early September due to Hurricane Irma’s impending landfall. The game has been scheduled for 3:30pm and will be televised on ESPNU. Houston returns home to host East Carolina. That will be an 11am Central Time kickoff on CBS Sports Network.


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