Once again, the dazzling offense of the South Florida Bulls was just good enough to offset the team’s dismal defense.
The Bulls won their school record 11th game Thursday, beating South Carolina 46-39 in overtime.
USF led comfortably for most of the game, but a furious rally by the Gamecocks forced overtime. South Carolina scored the game’s final 18 points to tie the game.
Quinton Flowers, however, threw his second touchdown pass in overtime when he scrambled to buy time, then hit Elkana Dillon for 25 yards and a touchdown. The Bulls’ defense, on its heels most of the final minutes, stopped South Carolina when Mike Love sacked quarterback Jake Bentley on fourth-and-six.
The Bulls played under the eye of new coach Charlie Strong, who attended the game. Strong doubtless saw a lot of improvement needed in the defense, which ranked No. 120 in college football this year. Bentley threw for 390 yards and three scores. Deebo Samuel caught 14 passes for 190 yards passing.
“Our guys really came through in the end, especially our defense,” said interim coach T.J. Weist. “We’re unbelievably proud of every guy, just how we finished and ended up with 11 wins. It’s just unbelievable.
“I can’t be more proud of these guys. I just want to get in that locker room and hug them, and love them up. We started Charlie off right, Coach Strong.”
Flowers was the MVP of the game, accounting for five touchdowns (three running, two passing) and 366 yards of total offense (261 passing, 105 rushing).
USF, ranked 25th coming into the game, has a chance to finish in the Top 25 for the first time in its history. South Carolina finished with a losing record at 6-7.
“I think we came out with energy,” said USF linebacker Auggie Sanchez. “I think we kind of felt like there was a little disrespect for us. We were the team coming in here with 10 wins and they were the SEC team. They kept asking us, ‘How can you guys keep up with the SEC?’ so on and so forth… The biggest stop of the year was defensively and that won us this bowl game. That’s a good way to go out.”