South Florida had a simple goal Thanksgiving Day: Win and wait.
The Bulls won, routing Central Florida 44-3 Thursday for their seventh win in eight games and now they will wait to see if they can sneak into the American Athletic Conference championship game.
USF (8-4, 6-2) needs UConn to beat Temple Saturday night to qualify for the first conference title game in school history. The six conference wins this season are a school record.
UCF (0-12, 0-8) finished the season winless for the second time in 11 years.
The Knights scored on their first possession, a 28-yard field goal by Matthew Wright, but didn’t threaten again. UCF, ranked last in the FBS in offense this season, had just 203 total yards and was two of 12 on third-down conversions.
“The difference in the ballgame was third down,” UCF interim coach Danny Barrett said. “We convert two of 12; they convert 11 of 16. We had plenty of opportunities from an offensive standpoint to stay on the field and we couldn’t do that. Give USF credit. They’re a very good football team.”
Quinton Flowers had a hand in all five Bulls’ touchdowns. Flowers completed 14 of 21 passes for 176 yards and had 87 yards rushing on 18 carries. He had scoring passes of 26 and 1 yard to Sean Price and a 4-yarder to Chris Barr. Flowers scored on runs of 3 and 5 yards.
“Quinton Flowers is a stud,” Taggart said. “He was ice cold out there today, making plays whenever we needed them. He inspires the rest of our football team. Guys get excited when they watch him play and they all want to play like he does.”
Marlon Mack picked up 102 yards on 18 carries for USF, his fourth straight game over 100 yards. Emilio Nadelman kicked field goals of 41, 43 and 44 yards.
The Bulls offense ran and passed as it pleased for most of the game. Flowers had two scoring passes and a 3-yard TD run in the first half when USF ran off 24 straight points to take a 24-3 lead.
The Bulls final possession of the first half started at their own 28 with 35 seconds left and they needed just three plays to get a 44-yard field goal from Nadelman.
D’Ernest Johnson ran 18 yards on the first play, Flowers hit Johnson with a screen pass good for 14 on the second play and Flowers scrambled for 14 yards to set up Nadelman’s field goal attempt as time expired.
USF scored touchdowns on its first two possessions of the second half to push the lead to 41-3 and then went on cruise control. Flowers scored from five yards out to finish off 75-yard drive, then hit Price for a 26-yard scoring play to finish off a 67-yard drive.
The sophomore quarterback sat out the fourth quarter.
UCF’s Justin Holman hit just 10 of 26 passes for 116 yards with two interceptions. Tre’Quan Smith had seven catches for 102 yards.
“On film they showed they struggled with pressure so that was our motto,” said USF linebacker Auggie Sanchez, who had eight tackles. “We’re not a defense that lays back and drops people in coverage. We get after you.”