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USF drags ECU through the mud early, hangs on late to win 22-17

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Both teams started slowly in the rain, but the Bulls managed to hang on late to beat ECU

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

This one started out sloppy and pretty much ended that way.  A driving rainstorm caused most of the sloppiness early, but once the rain stopped, the Bulls decided it was about time to get things going on both sides of the ball.   USF got a safety and a touchdown to open the scoring and continued pounding away.  Quinton Flowers was very productive for the Bulls, finishing 12-23 for 200 yards and two TDs and rushing for 79 yards.  Marlon Mack was also key for the Bulls, carrying the ball 27 times for 117 yards.

As for ECU, maybe they were just waterlogged early.  The offense had no firepower whatsoever, spinning their wheels for much of the first half.  Here's how bad it was: seven minutes before halftime, the Pirates had only gained 19 TOTAL YARDS.  Things improved slightly late in the half, as they finally got a spark after recovering a fumble deep in USF territory leading to their first score of the game. A solid effort by the USF defense didn't help matters.  The Bulls' front seven did a good job of getting pressure on ECU QB James Summers, and the secondary locked down the Pirates' receivers.  Summers finished strong, ending up 14-22 for 158 yards.  He did most of his damage on the ground, running for 42 yards and two TDs.

For as bad as the offense was, the defense did everything it could to keep the Pirates in the game.  They made several key stops on the night, limiting USF's output in shortened field situations.  Zeek Bigger was a one man wrecking machine for the Pirates, finishing with a team leading 12 tackles.

Up 12-7 at the half, the Bulls came out in the third and were immediately stopped by the ECU defense.  Later in the third, the ECU offense finally showed up, putting together a solid drive capped off by a three-yard keeper by Summers to take a 14-12 lead.  From there, both defenses continued to stifle the opposing offense.  USF took a 15-14 lead on a 39 yard field goal by Emili Nadelman early in the fourth, but the ECU offense managed to answer on the ensuing drive.  The Pirates drove inside the USF 30, but had to settle for a field goal by Davis Plowman to retake the lead, 17-15.

After both teams traded possessions, USF finally got back in front after blown coverage led to Flowers hitting Rodney Adams for a 67 yard score.  Down 22-17 with under five minutes remaining, Summers was stopped a yard short on a 4th and 7 to give the ball back to the Bulls.  USF was forced to punt, giving ECU one last shot with fifty five seconds left.  However, Summers was sacked by Zack Bullock to escape Greenville with a 22-17 win.

TAKEAWAYS

-ECU's offense is a problem.  Although they ended up with 220 total yards, it took them two full quarters to even manage a first down.  Summers showed that he can rebound from a slow start, but the entire offense badly needs a kickstart.

-USF, now 5-4, is one win away from becoming bowl eligible.  With Temple, Cincinnati and UCF left on the schedule, it's not outside of the question to pencil them in for a bowl bid.  They have a nice one-two punch with Flowers and Mack, both of which showed they can make plays when it counts.  Add a fierce front seven to that mix, and you can see why USF is on the verge of going bowling for the first time in a few years.

USF will have a tough one next week, welcoming Temple to Tampa.  ECU (4-6) heads to Orlando to meet UCF next Thursday night.