South Florida Explodes By SMU In 35-27 Victory

In a very entertaining game the South Florida Bulls overcame multiple mistakes in slipping by the SMU Mustangs 35-27 Saturday night in Dallas.

Offense was the name of the game as the two teams combined for just over 1,050 yards and 44 first downs on the night. SMU was able to continually move the ball in small chunks, winning the first down battle 28-16 and averaging nearly seven yards per play. They found all kinds of success in going to stud receiver Courtland Sutton to the tune of 13 catches, 252 yards, and two touchdowns. Both the reception and yards total were career highs for the sophomore.

While SMU was able to move the ball on virtually every play, South Florida went with a much different offensive tactic. On three of their touchdowns, they only handled the ball on a single play. Quinton Flowers found Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a 77-yard score on the opening offensive play of the game, Tyre McCants caught a 28-yard pass following an SMU turnover, and McCants took another pass 65 yards for a score to give USF a 28-14 lead.

The Bulls led throughout and extended their lead to 14 points after McCants’ second touchdown catch of the day, but were unable to put away the pesky Mustangs. Ben Hicks found Sutton for a 54-yard score and turned a USF fumble into three points as Josh Williams nailed a 24-yard field goals.

Alas, 28-24 would be as close as the Mustangs would get with USF sticking to the run game on a seven play scoring drive. Every single play of the drive was a run as Flowers carried three times for 52 yards, Marlon Mack carried twice for 27 yards, and D’Ernest Johnson carried twice for 14 yards that included a nine-yard scoring run. That score gave USF a 35-24 lead with just over 13 minutes left in the game.

After adding a field goal to pull within a score, SMU had two chances to win the game down the stretch. The first came after an SMU interception and started in USF territory. Hicks moved the Mustangs as close as the 14, but got too greedy and was picked off by Deatrick Nichols. The SMU defense came up big in nearly forcing a turnover, but also stopping USF on third down and forcing a punt.

With 3:19 left in the game and trailing by eight points, SMU had one last chance to move downfield and send the game to overtime. They quickly hit a 23-yard pass and then got a defensive pass interference call on the next play, moving the ball to the UCF 23. Hicks moved SMU to the 14-yard line, facing a fourth and one with the game on the line. They went with the ruin game, sending Braeden West to the right side of the line, but he was stuffed by linebacker Auggie Sanchez and company, handing the ball back to the Bulls to run out the clock.

After two kneeldowns, the Bulls were 9-2 and tied the school record for wins in a season.

With the win, South Florida is still in the hunt for the AAC title. They still need some help in the season finale, namely a Temple loss to East Carolina. If that happens and they are able to take care of business versus rival UCF, then they would head to the AAC title game to face Navy. Any other result would end with USF finishing second in the division and preparing for the bowl season.

SMU is still bowl eligible, but their route to the postseason has a huge bump in the way. They have to beat Navy in Annapolis in order to become bowl eligible. If they cannot do that, they seem to be too far down the 5-7 list to earn a bowl invitation. They can beat Navy, but it is a very tall task to ask of in the second season of Chad Morris as head coach.

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