TAMPA, Fla. — No. 23 South Florida can finally look ahead to a much-anticipated showdown with No. 14 UCF.
Quinton Flowers threw two touchdown passes and the Bulls remained in contention for a berth in the American Athletic Conference championship game by holding off Tulsa 27-20 on Thursday night.
Flowers, one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks, ran for 119 yards while also throwing for 142 to send USF (9-1, 6-1) into next week’s regular-season finale against unbeaten with the league’s East Division title on the line.
“We’ve got one more,” coach Charlie Strong said. “Our guys understand what’s stake.”
Coming off a bye, Strong cautioned his players about not looking past Tulsa (2-9, 1-6), which has lost four straight since beating Houston, the only team that’s beaten USF.
“Everybody thinks because of their record that they’re not very good,” Strong said. “They beat Houston and Houston beat us. … You have to give them some credit.”
Flowers and USF’s high-powered offense weren’t as sharp as usual, however first-quarter TD throws of 25 yards to Tyre McCants and 35 yards to Darnell Salomon helped USF to an early 21-7 lead.
Luke Skipper scored on runs on first-half runs of 12 and 9 yards for Tulsa (2-9, 1-6), which blocked a punt to set up a 38-yard field goal that trimmed a 10-point deficit to 27-20 with 4:18 remaining.
The Golden Hurricane got the ball one more time, with backup quarterback Chad President — filling in for Skipper, who left in the second half with a possible concussion — leading a drive from his own 25 to the USF 30 before turning the ball over on downs.
“I think we’re a better team than our record shows. This is our fifth game like this. We’ve lost three on the last play of the game,” Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery said. “We had an opportunity in this one and an opportunity in another one. I don’t think our record is a great indication of the type of team we are.”
D’Angelo Brewer ran for 163 yards for Tulsa, becoming the Golden Hurricane’s career rushing leader with 3,662 yards. The senior also broke the AAC career mark of 3,609 set by former USF running back Marlon Mack.
“D’Angelo has been the workhorse for us all year long,” Montgomery said. “Nobody knows, but he got injured last week and hadn’t practiced a day and was able to come out and put on this performance tonight.”
Tulsa: Despite having just two victories, the Golden Hurricane feel there’s still plenty to accomplish over the last two weeks of the season. Coach Philip Montgomery said the goal is to show continued progress. Playing USF tougher than expected is a step in the right direction.
South Florida: Since losing to Houston, the Bulls have delivered one of their best offensive performances of the season — finishing with 602 yards against UConn — and one of the sloppiest Thursday night. Flowers lost a second-quarter fumble and an end-zone interception stopping another promising drive.
Since beating Houston 45-17 on Oct. 14, Houston has lost to Connecticut, SMU, Memphis and USF. Three of the four loses were by a touchdown or less.
“That team has lost some games,” Strong said, reiterating that no one should be surprised that Tulsa played his team tough. “But they’ve been in them, too.”
WHAT A CLASS
USF honored 23 seniors before the game, including Flowers, one of seven players in NCAA FBS history with 7,000 career yards passing, along with ,3,000 rushing The class has 32 wins, two shy of the school record set from 2006-09 with a possible three games remaining if the Bulls wind up in the conference championship game.
USF ensured it will enter next week’s showdown against UCF ranked in the Top 25. Beating last-place Tulsa may not send the Bulls soaring in the rankings, but that wasn’t the objective Thursday night anyway. The Bulls are still on course to possibly play for the conference championship, and that’s what Strong and his players yearn most.
Tulsa: Close the season at home against Temple on Nov. 25.
South Florida: Regular-season finale at unbeaten UCF next Friday.