By the numbers: Offensive talent abounds on USF
After letting a close one slip away against the Memphis Tigers last Thursday, the football team must find a way to recover ahead of its game against the No. 17 South Florida Bulls on Saturday – the toughest opponent the Cougars will face in 2017.
The Bulls enter the weekend tilt riding a nation-leading, 12-game winning streak, threatening to embarrass the Cougars should they fail to show up mentally. Letdowns have been nonexistent since the arrival of former Texas head coach Charlie Strong who has the Bulls building on the 11-win season they earned last year.
Although led by senior quarterback Quinton Flowers, the USF offense boasts some of the top talent in the country.
Let’s preview some of the most dangerous offensive weapons the Bulls possess, highlighted by the superstar QB.
Proven leadership at quarterback
Flowers is one of the toughest players in the country on and off the field.
Take into account the personal tragedies that the senior has faced in losing both of his parents before turning 18, followed by the loss of his brother only years later, and the success Flowers has produced on the field is nothing short of inspirational.
Originally recruited as a defensive back by most schools, the senior has taken the reins of the Bulls’ offense and is proving to be one of college football’s premier QB’s. Although an efficient passer, the Miami native stands out most when he makes plays with his feet.
Last season, Flowers led all NCAA signal-callers by averaging 7.7 yards per carry and finished second in both rush yards and scores. He trailed Heisman Trophy Winner Lamar Jackson by just 41 yards and three TD’s.
Flowers appears to be less efficient in the run so far this season, though still at an impressive mark of 5.3 yards per carry, but he sits comfortably among the nation’s Top-10 rushing QB’s with 613 yards and seven ground scores in as many games played.
Through the air, the senior’s completion percentage has dipped to 52 percent in 2017 from 63 percent last season, placing him outside of the top 100 QB’s in pass efficiency. Some may attribute this to losing two of his favorite targets from a year ago in wide receiver Rodney Adams and pass-catching running back Marlon Mack.
Even so, Flowers has found the end zone 12 times through the air in addition to throwing only three interceptions.
Backfield remains strong
The 2016 Bulls featured a backfield that was highlighted by the special talent of Mack, who now makes his impact on the Indianapolis Colts. Mack ranked among the best RB’s in the country with 6.8 yards per touch in addition to his 15 scores and 28 catches for 227 yards.
Senior D’Ernest Johnson returned to carry most of the workload in Mack’s absence.
Having played second fiddle to the now-pro Mack for much of 2016, the 5-foot-10-inch, 208-pound Johnson still managed to stand out and ranked in the op 10th percentile of NCAA backs with five TD receptions and 300 receiving yards.
Now a senior, Johnson has produced 569 yards and five scores on the ground in addition to a TD grab.
Also a factor in the run game for the Bulls is senior RB Darius Tice.
Despite handling just 103 carries opposed to Johnson’s 129, the returning senior has been more efficient by already tallying 634 yards and nine TD’s, ranking him among the best RB’s on a per-play basis.
Good, not great, at wide receiver
With Adams — last season’s clear-cut leading WR on the Bulls’ roster — lost to graduation, senior Marquez Valdes-Scantling has catapulted into the role of Flowers’ primary target.
The NC State transfer is the indisputable No. 1 option in the receiving corp with 28 catches, while no other wideout has more than 13. Valdes-Scantling has also notched five TD’s in 2017, one of which was a rushing score.
The supporting cast around Valdes-Scantling includes sophomore Darnell Salomon and junior Tyre McCants, who both lettered a season ago. The duo has combined for 24 receptions and five scores to this point in 2017.
Overall, South Florida finds its scores more heavily with the run (22) opposed to the pass (12). Its average of 1.7 passing scores per game still leaves them in the upper-half of the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Limiting these skill-position players will be critical for the Cougars to avoid a third consecutive loss for the first time since 2013.