Marlon Mack

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Quinton Flowers and South Florida deal Navy first conference loss of the season in high-scoring affair

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South Florida scored a touchdown on the very first drive of the game and didn’t stop until the final minute of the first half in a wild, high-scoring affair on Friday night that dealt Navy their first American Athletic Conference loss of the season, 52-45.

Bulls quarterback Quinton Flowers appeared to be fully healthy after limping off last week in a loss to Temple, throwing for 219 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for a team-leading 176 yards and two scores. He pretty much picked apart the overmatched Midshipmen, leading six straight touchdown drives to open the game that included two 40-plus yard plays to find the end zone in the first quarter alone.

His counterpart in the backfield Marlon Mack wasn’t too shabby either, scoring an 85-yard touchdown on his way to 125 yards on the night with just 11 carries. Backup tailback D'Ernest Johnson also found plenty of running room as he topped the century mark on the ground as well and added two touchdowns for good measure.

While USF did have over 600 yards of total offense and controlled the game pretty much from the opening whistle, Navy did claw their way back into the game by averaging over seven yards a play for the night and scoring three fourth quarter touchdowns. Quarterback Will Worth had a pretty great night passing for an option quarterback (15-27, 299 yards, one touchdown, one interception) in addition to leading the team in rushing and scoring four times.

The win kept the Bulls’ alive in the AAC East and moved them to 7-2 on the season. They still will need Temple to lose again if they want to make it to the conference title game but the rebound effort at home was impressive all things considered.

For Navy meanwhile, the loss didn’t mean much in the AAC West standings as they remain atop them and ahead of Memphis, Tulsa and Houston. It does drop them to 5-2 on the season ahead of their annual showdown with Notre Dame but they will probably enter the contest as significant favorites given the way they played on Friday night.

South Florida-Western Kentucky should be an early bowl treat

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Two weeks from today, a game that should be among the best bowls of the season will take place. It’s one to mark down on your office calendar to throw on WatchESPN, or if you’re lucky enough to get the week off, make a point to have on TV.

Western Kentucky and South Florida kick off in the W̶i̶l̶l̶i̶e̶ ̶T̶a̶g̶g̶a̶r̶t̶  Miami Beach Bowl at 2:30 p.m. ET on Monday, Dec. 21. This is a plea to anyone who likes fun football to find a way to watch this game.

Western Kentucky beat Southern Mississippi in the Conference USA Championship Game last weekend, capping off an 11-2 regular season in which Jeff Brohm’s Hilltoppers averaged 44.2 points per game (4th among FBS teams). Senior quarterback Brandon Doughty completed 71.8 percent of his passes (1st among FBS QBs) for 4,594 yards (2nd) and 45 touchdowns (1st). Junior running back Anthony Wales averaged 6.99 yards per carry (6th among FBS players with 100+ carries) in this pass-happy offense, which consistently fed junior receiver Taywan Taylor, who racked up 79 receptions (21st), 1,363 yards (4th) and 17 touchdowns (2nd).

And this isn’t necessarily a team that only looks good thanks to a weak C-USA schedule — SB Nation’s Bill Connelly’s S&P+ numbers rate WKU as the 11th-best team in FBS. The Hilltoppers’ offense ranks 1st in efficiency, seventh in finishing drives and 11th in explosiveness. This is a top-five passing offense and a top-30 rushing offense, one which scored fewer than 35 points only twice this year (against Vanderbilt and LSU).

On the other sideline is a South Florida team coached by Taggart — who quickly built a solid foundation at WKU from 2010-2012 — who steered his team to a massive turnaround this fall. The Bulls lost three games in a row in the first quarter of the season, and while the opponents were Florida State, Maryland and Memphis, becoming bowl-eligible looked like a difficult task.

After that losing streak, though, the Bulls ripped off wins in seven of their final eight games, with the only loss in there to a very good Navy team. A 44-23 win over Temple nearly upended Matt Rhule’s bid for an conference title game appearance, and a 65-27 stomping of Cincinnati asserted South Florida as one of the better teams in the AAC.

South Florida is very much geared toward running the ball with sophomore running back Marlon Mack (193 carries, 1,273 yards, eight TDs) and quarterback Quinton Flowers (157 carries, 969 yards, 10 TDs). But Flowers has a penchant for throwing for big plays, too, throwing a dozen passes for 40 or more yards with 21 touchdowns against eight interceptions.

Both WKU and USF have decent-to-mediocre defenses — WKU’s ranks 53rd in S&P+, while USF’s is 39th — that may not provide a whole lot of resistance against the powerful offenses in this game. It’ll be played at Marlins Park during the afternoon on a Monday — insert your baseball joke here, mine is that the poor Marlins, with Giancarlo Stanton only playing half a season, hit the second-fewest home runs in the majors this summer — but from afar looks like one of the most entertaining games of bowl season.