No. 19 South Florida overcomes slow start in opener
For the first quarter Saturday night, South Florida hardly looked like the nation’s No. 19 team in its season opener at San Jose State.
The Bulls were down 16-0, having seen mistakes in their kicking game (a kickoff out of bounds, an 18-yard punt and a blocked punt) and other miscues help the homestanding Spartans to a field goal and a couple of touchdowns that excited the sparse crowd at CEFCU Stadium.
But first-year coach Charlie Strong had a simple message for his team.
“I just told ‘em it’s a 60-minute game and we’re not going to panic,” he said. “We still have a lot of football out here and we’re going to get going.”
Apparently, the Bulls were listening.
Quarterback Quinton Flowers yanked the Bulls out of their early stupor by passing for two touchdowns in the second quarter, running back D’Ernest Johnson scored two touchdowns, one on a 50-yard sprint, and the Bulls scored the next 42 points to roll to a 42-22 victory.
Flowers completed 11 of 22 passes for 212 yards and also rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game early in the fourth quarter.
“You know this,” Strong said. “With Quinton there’s going to be a play made at some point. We knew on defense we just had to keep playing and get the ball back for our offense, and then he’s going to make it happen. He can do so many things.”
Johnson joined with Darius Tice to give the Bulls a huge advantage on the ground. Johnson rushed for 99 yards, Tice for 94 and a touchdown as the Bulls outrushed the Spartans 315-109 in piling up a 548 yards of total offense with 525 over the last three quarters.
The Spartans finished with 387 yards in total offense but couldn’t keep up with the Bulls’ charge. Quarterback Josh Love passed for 192 yards and two touchdowns, both to slot receiver Bailey Gaither, but he also threw three interceptions, two leading to Bulls’ touchdowns.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed we didn’t get the outcome we wanted,” said San Jose State coach Brent Brennan, who, like Strong, is in his first season at his current post. “But I think the kids fought ‘til the end and made some plays at the end, and we got to see some guys do some stuff. So we’ll get back to work.”
Backup quarterback Montel Aaron relieved Love and passed 22 yards to wide receiver Justin Holmes for the Spartans’ final touchdown after Flowers scored from 1 yard to give the Bulls a 42-16 lead early in the fourth quarter.
“It’s a hard thing looking at some of the interceptions that Josh threw — the tipped balls, there was an alignment issue on one of them, and that affected the coverage,” Brennan said. “That stuff is hard. But that’s football.
“We’re going to try to evaluate those guys and come up with a decision about how we’re going to move forward, but I thought they both hit some throws, both made some plays. At times, we seemed like we had some momentum going and then we just kind of stalled out because of the turnovers and put our defense in some bad spots.”
The game could not have started in a worse way for the Bulls.
Kicker Emilio Nadelman’s opening kickoff went out of bounds, punter Jon Hernandez’s first punt went only 18 yards and set up a Spartans’ field goal, a long pass bounce off the face mask of receiver Marquez Valdez-Scantling, and defensive tackle Deadrin Senat was ejected for targeting — all in the first seven minutes.
In the rest of the first quarter, the Bulls had a punt blocked that led to San Jose State’s second touchdown and Flowers was sacked three times.
But it was a different ballgame over the final three quarters.
“We just told each other we’ve been in this situation before,” Johnson said. “And we’ve just go to keep our cool. No need to rush anything. Just let the game come to you.”
NOTES: After the miserable start, South Florida had 270 yards of total offense in the second quarter. ... Coach Brent Brennan didn’t announce sophomore Josh Love as San Jose State’s starter at quarterback until just before the game. ... San Jose State offensive coordinator Andrew Sowder was a quality control assistant on USF coach Charlie Strong’s staff at Texas last year. He also worked with USF offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green. ... The Bulls opened their 21st season of football with their second trip to California. They lost at San Diego State 41-12 in 1999.