No. 22 South Florida rolls past Illinois
TAMPA, Fla. — For the first time this season, No. 22 South Florida and quarterback Quinton Flowers were back to their dominating ways, piling up 680 yards of total offense on Friday night in an easy 47-23 win over Illinois at Raymond James Stadium.
“When you have a leader in your quarterback in Q, he just goes about his business,” USF coach Charlie Strong said.
The Bulls (3-0) got a strong game from Flowers, who threw for four touchdowns and ran for a fifth, finishing with 280 passing yards and 106 rushing. The Bulls also got 100-yard rushing games from running backs D’Ernest Johnson (101 yards) and Darius Tice (105 yards), getting three players over 100 for just the second time in school history.
“When you look at the first two games we played and then tonight, it was a major step for us,” Strong said of lackluster early wins against San Jose State and Stony Brook. “It’s amazing we were able to put those numbers together.”
Illinois (2-1) struggled on both sides of the ball in Illini coach Lovie Smith’s return to Tampa, with USF scoring 21 straight points after the Illini had pulled within a touchdown just before halftime.
“Every once in a while you have a game where nothing goes as planned,” Smith said. “You have to give South Florida a lot of credit. They played well. They were as good as advertised. We’ve played better than that, and that’s what’s disappointing, that we didn’t give them a better game.”
Flowers rushed for a touchdown on the final play of the first half for a 23-9 lead, then threw a pair of 17-yard touchdown passes in the third quarter to Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Johnson to pull away.
Illinois added a 21-yard touchdown pass from backup Jeff George Jr. to Mike Epstein in the fourth quarter. George threw for 197 yards in relief of starter Chayce Crouch.
“Total breakdown tonight, but it counts one game, and the good part is we can leave our nonconference schedule and get to Big Ten play,” Smith said. “They were moving the ball all night. That was just a part of our problem. Even early on, we were hanging in there but we weren’t able to really stop them.”
Illinois got its first touchdown on a 45-yard run by Epstein, but managed just 19 yards on its other 11 carries entering the fourth quarter.
USF dominated the first half, taking a 23-9 lead after Flowers scored on a 6-yard touchdown run as the first half ended.
The two teams had 26 penalties for 240 yards in the first half, with USF getting 14 for 130 yards and Illinois 12 for 110. The Bulls finished with 16 for 140 yards, and Illinois finished with 15 for 138.
The score could have been more lopsided. USF had a field goal blocked, and Flowers threw an interception in the end zone.
The Bulls opened the scoring on a 39-yard touchdown pass from Flowers to Deangelo Antoine, and after a 15-yard penalty on the extra point, the kick was blocked and returned by Nate Hobbs for a two-point conversion for Illinois, which then trailed 6-2.
Emilio Nadelman kicked a 29-yard field goal late in the first quarter, and Tice added a 10-yard touchdown run for a 16-2 USF lead with 9:12 left in the second period.
Illinois pulled within a score on a 45-yard touchdown run by freshman Epstein, cutting the Bulls’ lead to 16-9 with 2:18 left in the half.
But the Bulls answered with a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Flowers threw a 32-yard pass to the 6-yard line, quickly spiked the ball to stop the clock, then ran it in as time expired for a 23-9 lead.
USF outgained Illinois 384-140 in the first half, with Flowers, Tice and Johnson all rushing for more than 60 yards in the half.
NOTES: Illinois coach Lovie Smith returned to Tampa and Raymond James Stadium, where he was head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2014-15, going 8-24. The two NFL teams he was head coach for, the Bears and Bucs, play there on Sunday. ... Two players — USF’s Deadrin Senat and Illinois’ Stanley Green — were flagged for targeting and ejected from the game.