In Charlie Strong’s debut with No. 19 South Florida, just about everything that could go wrong for the Bulls in the first quarter, did.
Kickoffs out-of-bounds? Check. Punt blocked and later turned into a touchdown? Definitely. Three-and-outs? Several.
Luckily for Strong and his team though, the second quarter amounted to a flipping of the switch and keyed a 42-point unanswered run that allowed USF to escape from the left coast with a 42-22 victory over San Jose State that was far from the impressive debut the team wanted.
Quarterback Quinton Flowers entered the season as a dark horse Heisman candidate but was not quite as sharp as many expected to open his campaign, needing that first quarter to get warmed up along with his teammates. Despite that, he still was quite efficient on the night and finished with 212 yards and two scores through the air while rushing for another 70 yards on the ground and finding the end zone once with his feet.
D’Ernest Johnson also took a while to get going but looked like a solid replacement for Marlon Mack at tailback by rushing for 99 yards and two touchdowns, while Darius Tice also chipped in with another 94 yards and a score. Marquez Scantling led the way for the receiving corps and posted six catches for 91 yards but left the scoring to two of his teammates. Just as impressive was the Bulls’ defense, which clamped down after some early confusion and recorded five tackles for loss, a sack and three interceptions on the night.
While the initial flourish was nice, the final three quarters was not exactly what SJSU’s new coaching staff was hoping to get out the Spartans in a big early test. QB Josh Love was forced out the pocket constantly and pressured into three turnovers after two first half touchdown passes. Perhaps the biggest issue for the rebuilding Mountain West team was the lack of a running game (a paltry 2.9 yards per rush) and kicking issues with two blocked extra points.
We’re used to teams having a few kinks to work out at the beginning of the season and that is certainly the case for these teams. At least for USF, that long flight back to Tampa will come after a win that was the beginning of a new era for the Bulls under Strong and company.