What. A. Game.
A low scoring contest turned into chaos in the fourth quarter, and it all started on a 4th and 24. Houston had the ball in USF territory with a nice return to the Bulls’ 49 by Brandon McDowell, but three uninspiring plays by the offense led to the 4th and 24. There aren’t many plays you can run to erase that yardage for a first down. D’Eriq King, who took over for Kyle Postma early in the first half, rolled out to the right and threw up a desperation heave that eluded multiple Bulls defenders and landed in Courtney Lark’s hands. Lark finished with a team high 69 yards and one touchdown. Six plays later, King dropped back to pass, got pressured, and scrambled to the right to find the endzone for the go-ahead score with 11 seconds left.
Houston’s plan all game, which we expected, was to force Quinton Flowers to beat them through the air. The senior attempted a career-high 38 passes and completed 23 of those for 325 yards. There were plenty of frustrations for Flowers, as he was held to just seven yards rushing. USF couldn’t get anything going on the ground, even when they had a burst. Darius Tice led the team with 92 yards rushing, but his longest rush was just 18 yards. Their answer came in the form of Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who had a game-high 10 catches and 186 yards. In the end, the offense couldn’t sustain enough drives, and the defense couldn’t get clutch stops to keep USF undefeated.
Houston’s offense looked lost in the first half, and were a completely different different group in the second. D’Eriq King played a vital role in that turnaround. Major Applewhite decided to replace Kyle Postma for King early in the game, and fans weren’t happy early on. Those concerns were erased obviously later in the game, and King should be the starter going forward. He got plenty of support from an unsuspected source. Mulbah Car was supposed to be the backup to Duke Catalon, but rushed 18 times for 137 yards. Catalon only had eight carries for 23 yards. King added 83 yards and two scores (including the huge touchdown at the end) to go with his 12-for-20 and 137 yard passing performance. King and the offense finally capitalized on the great defensive performance, and there were multiple defenders that contributed to the win.
Houston’s plan to stop the run worked. USF came into the game averaging 213 yards per game on the ground. The Bulls finished with 137. D’Juan Hines continues to thrive at his new position, finishing with 13 tackles, two for loss. The Cougars defense finished with 12 tackles for loss, and eight players contributed. It appeared that USF either didn’t have a plan for Ed Oliver, or didn’t execute it. Either way Oliver was a problem all night for the Bulls, and finished with seven tackles, two for loss, and a pass breakup. Oliver continues to dominate despite the extra attention he receives on a weekly basis.
After coming so close to an upset win over Memphis last week, the Cougars used a few extra days off to ensure a win this week. The offensive struggles in the first half were erased on the final drive, and they came through in the clutch to get the win. Luck finally went their way after a few games that didn’t go Houston’s way. This team continues to battle, and now is 5-3 on the season. For USF, a conference championship birth is still in their control despite the loss. While they will need to remain with one loss and beat UCF at the end of the season, they are still very much in control of their own destiny. The slow starts and early struggles just finally caught up to them.