TAMPA—– The University of South Florida Bulls opened their 2016 football season, their 20th in their team history, at home against FCS opponent, the Towson Tigers. The Bulls entered the season selected by many to win the American Athletic Conference East Division with returning Junior starters QB Quinton Flowers and RB Marlon Mack, and on Saturday night, the Bulls did not disappoint. They defeated the Tigers by a score of 56-20.
The Bulls wasted no time in getting on the scoreboard. In the first quarter, Flowers threw to Senior RB Darius Tice for a 43 yard touchdown pass and the Bulls’ first score at 13:21. Mack added a seven yard TD run about eight minutes later.
“To set the tone, it felt good,” said Tice. “If I get the chance to get the ball in my hands, I wanted to make a good start for my team…To see it work out like that was awesome.”
At quarterback, the Tigers started Redshirt Sophomore Morgan Mahalak, a transfer player who spent the past two years at University of Oregon. Also in the backfield for Towson was Senior RB Darius Victor, who had needed 45 yards rushing to amass 3000 yards for his career. Victor was held to 19 yards in first half but was able to get the career 3K mark in the second half.
Early in the second quarter, Mahalak completed a 56 yard pass to Senior WR Christian Summers down to the USF 1 yard line. On the next play, Victor scored on a 1 yard TD run, decreasing USF’s lead to 4 points, 14-10.
With about 10 minutes left in the first half, on a USF 3rd down and 11, Mack ran the ball for 8 yards and fumbled with Towson recovering. Mack was slow to get up and did not return to the game.
“He’s good,” said Bulls Head Coach Willie Taggart. “We heal differently around here, and I walked in the locker room he said ‘I’m good, Coach.’ He told me he was good. Yes [it was precautionary], he took a good hit. But he got up, and in the locker room he was good. He said ‘I’m cool coach.'”
Later in the quarter, on fourth down and 2, Towson tried to reach the line to gain by handing off to Redshirt Freshman Shane Simpson who fumbled the ball. The fumble was recovered by USF Sophomore S Jaymon Thomas. On the very next play, Flowers connected with Senior WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a 51 yard TD pass to increase the Bulls lead to 21-10. The TD reception was a career long for Valdes-Scantling.
“It was good to see him catch that deep ball. We like those,” said Taggart. “It was great to see him get a couple catches in there. It was good to see him go out and do what he is capable of doing.”
With roughly two minutes left in the half, an interception of a Mahalak pass and a return of 49 yards to the Towson five yard line by USF Senior LB Nigel Harris led to a five yard TD run by Flowers which made the score 28-10 going into halftime.
“Initially, I was thinking I’d get the touchdown,” said Harris. “But next thing you know my legs are coming up, so I’m running looking at the quarterback and I’m like, ‘Man he’s trying to get me.’ I wasn’t able to score but the offense capitalized on it.”
“It’s his senior year and Nigel just wants us to be the best,” said Taggart. “He’s worked that way the entire off season, and that he would go out with a bang. That was good to see that he could come in and out of the game like that. It was good to see that he could come in and do what he’s been doing this entire offseason.”
The Bulls scored on their first drive of the second half. It was an 11 play, 79 yard drive that took all of 3:22 off the clock, culminating in a 4yd TD run by Senior WR Rodney Adams. Adams’ touchdown increased the USF lead to 35-10.
Towson ended up with a short field after a 61 yard kickoff return by Simpson to the USF 39 yard line. The Tigers scored a few plays later on a Victor 8 yard TD run, making the score USF 35 and Towson 17. The TD run by Victor allowed him to eclipse 3000 total rushing yards for his career.
USF answered the Tiger TD five minutes later when Flowers ran for a 7 yard TD giving the Bulls a 42-17 lead. The Tigers later fumbled and the Bulls recovered. With a considerable lead, in the third quarter, Taggart brought in USF Sophomore Backup QB Brett Kean. On his first play after the turnover and the first of his college career, Kean completed a 23 yard TD pass to Junior RB D’Ernest Johnson late in the third quarter, giving the Bulls a 49-17 lead.
“Great win, great win for the Bulls. I don’t know what else to say,” said Taggart. “It was a good win. Great job by a lot of different guys. I’m really proud of our guys the way they came out the second half and played better than the first half. The first half we weren’t sharp at all, especially offensively. But I felt like the second half our guys picked up a little bit and made plays that they were capable of making.”
“This offense has grown a lot,” said Tice. “At first, we were just controlling the clock and not scoring that many points. Now, I look up and (everyone) is scoring. I see Valdes-Scantling scored, Adams scored, Flowers scored… It makes me proud to see that. I remember games, we used to just beat people 10-7. Now we beat people 56-20. We’ve come a long way.”
GAME NOTES – Announced attendance was 35,976… Tampa Bay Buccaneer WR Vincent Jackson served as the honorary Bulls Captain at the coin toss… USF has 15 returning starters in 2016, which, along with a 6-2 conference record last season, is a huge reason why they are tabbed as the pre-season favorite to win the AAC East… Towson entered the 2016 season ranked number 24 in the STATS FCS Poll, and number 18 in the Athlon Sports Power Poll for Week 1… The only player from Florida on the Towson roster is Senior DT Max Tejada. He hails from Orange Park, about a three hour drive from Tampa… This was Towson’s first visit to The Sunshine State… The Tigers do not have team captains. Instead they have Kings, with each King having two Sentinels and a Kingdom… Towson is the only program in NCAA history to make the playoffs at Division III, Division II, and Division I levels… The Bulls record in home openers now sits at 19-1. The Tigers are now 1-7 in season openers vs FBS teams, their last win against UConn in 2013… The next home game for the Bulls is next Saturday, September 10, 2016 at 7pm vs Northern Illinois.