A back and forth affair that really ramped up in the second half, the 2017 Birmingham Bowl just might have been the best game of this year’s bowl season thus far. With 52 points scored in the second-half, the game truly came down to the finals seconds, as USF were able to score the final touchdown with 16 seconds left to seal the game for the Bulls.
It was a slow start to the game for the USF offense, who were only able to amass three first-half points before a touchdown in the final minute tied the game at ten. Coach Strong spoke about the importance of tying up the game before the half saying, “Just to get those points and get it tied up was critical,” He continued, “I always look at [the game] was 0-0, now let’s go play 30 more minutes of football.” The Bulls used that mentality to really open up offensively, and put together a second half that totaled 431-yards and 28-points on their way to their bowl victory.
In his final game at USF, Senior quarterback Quinton Flowers really showcased why he is one of the best dual-threat talents in all of college football. Flowers finished the game completing 17 of his 34 passes for 311-yards for four passing touchdowns, as well as leading the team with 106-yards rushing and a touchdown. Flowers was named the Birmingham Bowl MVP and will ride off into the sunset as perhaps the greatest USF Bull in the history of the program.
Flowers on the feeling of ending his career at USF as back to back Birmingham Bowl champions, “It feels great, just to go out and have another chance to showcase your talent to the world, not just our fans.” He continued, “We always tell each other let’s leave our legacy, this is what we came here to do.”
His legacy was cemented on the final drive, where USF was trailing 34-31 with 1:21 left to play and needing a field goal to force overtime. Flowers wouldn’t settle for a field goal, though, and led USF for the final time with a touchdown to take the lead. The score came with 16 seconds left in the game, where Flowers was able to connect with Junior wide receiver Tyre McCants for a 26-yard touchdown and the win.
McCants ultimately reeled in two touchdowns to go along with his 88-yards receiving but did not finish as the Bulls leading receiver. That honor would go to Senior wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scandling, who in his final game as a Bull would total 133-yards receiving, including a 64-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to keep the Bulls in the game against the Raiders.
Coming into the game, the USF defense ranked fifth in the nation in interceptions. The big play ability of the secondary would show up as the Bulls added two more interceptions to their season total, one of which coming near the end of the first half that gave the Bulls a much-needed momentum shift heading into the second half. Senior defensive tackle Deadrin Senat would show out as well, getting to Texas Tech quarterback Nic Shimonek multiple times in the game and finishing with three sacks to finish his USF career.
Many of the strongest performances for USF came from their seniors, but according to coach Strong, the play of these seniors throughout their USF careers has laid a groundwork for the future. “I look at this group, last year with 11 wins, this year ten wins, 21-4 in their last two years. A foundation has been laid here, and now it is up to us to continue to build on that foundation.”
The USF Bulls finish their season with back to back 10-win seasons for the first time in USF history, and Strong will look to continue to build the program heading into 2018.