TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — South Florida beat No. 22 Navy at its own game.
Quinton Flowers rushed for 176 yards and two touchdowns, and the Bulls scored on their first six possessions Friday night to build a 28-point halftime lead before holding off the Midshipmen 52-45 to get back on track in the American Athletic Conference.
“We ran into a buzzsaw,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “They just had so many things going. … We sputtered early on offense and that compounded the problems for us.”
Rebounding from a 16-point loss to Temple that cost the Bulls (7-2, 4-1) sole possession of first place in the AAC’s East Division, Flowers keyed a balanced attack that amassed 629 yards total offense against an overmatched Navy defense that yielded TDs on six of USF’s seven first-half possessions to fall behind 42-14.
“Great win for us,” USF coach Willie Taggart said. “I’m really excited the way our guys responded to how we performed last week.”
Will Worth ran for four touchdowns for Navy (5-2, 4-1), which leads the AAC West and entered game as the only team without a loss in league play after beating then-No. 6 Houston and Memphis to nudge into the Top 25.
Flowers joined Marlon Mack in topping 100 yards rushing for the third time in four games. The dual-threat quarterback scored on runs of 1 and 63 yards, while also throwing for 219 and two more TDs.
Mack scored on an 85-yard run in the opening quarter and finished with 125 on 11 carries for the 18th 100-yard performance of his career, fifth this season.
“Our guys accepted the challenge. We needed to run the ball well and score early,” Taggart said. “You want (Navy) to have to play from behind.”
Worth rushed for 129 yards and scored on runs of 4, 1, 1 and 2 yards for Navy, which was forced to throw the ball more than the Midshipmen are accustomed, with Worth going 15 of 27 for 299 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The senior quarterback from Valrico, Florida — a short drive from the USF campus — set up one of his TDs with a 42-yard completion to Toneo Gulley. The Midshipmen attempted more than eight passes in a game for only the third time this season, finishing with 616 yards total offense, including 317 rushing.
Worth’s 9-yard TD pass to Darryl Bonner came on the game’s final play.
“We gave them a 28-point lead,” Worth said, “and it’s tough to come back against a talented team like that.”
USF took a half-game lead over Temple in the East standings. Navy goes out of conference against Notre Dame next week, then faces Tulsa, East Carolina and SMU down the stretch in conference play.
“They got the ‘W’ but there’s a possibility that we will play them again,” Worth said. “But we have Notre Dame next week and we have to bounce back and get focused on them.”
Navy: The Midshipmen thrive by essentially playing keep-away, using a potent rushing attack to control the ball and keep opposing offenses off the field for long stretches. The strategy worked to perfection a year ago — when Navy ran for 442 yards to beat USF 29-17 in Annapolis — but never got a chance to work this time.
South Florida: Flowers leads the American in TD passes, however the Bulls are at their best when they’re able to run the ball consistently. Mack led the AAC is rushing the past two years. And along with Flowers, who is averaging more than 7 yards per carry, USF has the best one-two running punch in the conference.
South Florida rushed for a school record 190 yards in the first quarter and finished with 412. D’Ernest Johnson gained a career-high 108 on 19 attempts, giving the Bulls three 100-yard rushers in a game for the first time in program history.
Worth’s passing total was a season high. The only other time he threw more than 12 passes in game, he was 17 of 30 for 260 yards and no touchdowns in a 14-point loss at Air Force on Oct. 1.
Navy remains atop the American West standings, however the lopsided result likely will knock the Midshipmen out of the Top 25. USF was inching toward a spot in the rankings before last week’s loss at Temple. The dominating performance on national television states the case that at the very least no team in the AAC is playing better than the Bulls right now.
RARE LEAGUE LOSS
Navy has won 11 of 13 conference games since joining the American last year. The only another loss in league play was a 52-31 defeat at Houston last season.
Navy steps out of conference, returning to Florida next Saturday to face Notre Dame in Jacksonville.
South Florida has a bye before playing at Memphis on Nov. 12.
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Flowers shines, South Florida beats No. 22 Navy 52-45 – USA TODAY