South Florida quarterback Quinton Flowers feinted, and Tulane’s defense fainted.
That’s not exactly what happened on the Bulls’ opening possession, but it is close enough.
Taking a shotgun snap from the Tulane 21, Flowers stepped to his left and his right, freezing everyone, then streaked untouched right up the middle for an easy touchdown that rocked the Green Wave early Saturday night at Yulman Stadium.
The No. 16 Bulls rolled to a 24-point lead from there and held on to win 34-28 despite a furious comeback in the fourth quarter, extending the nation’s longest winning streak to 12 games while Tulane’s futility against ranked opponents stretched to 41 over a span of 33 years.
"I've never played against a player like him,” said Tulane cornerback Donnie Lewis, who was burned for two long touchdown passes from Flowers but bounced back with an interception and a blocked field goal. “I’m at a loss for words. He can do a lot with his feet. He’s the leader of that team, and he just plays with confidence.”
Tulane (3-4, 1-2 American Athletic Conference) appeared to answer that early touchdown on running back Dontrell Hilliard’s 25-yard scoring run, but it was nullified by a holding call on offensive guard Dominique Briggs that led to a punt.
Aside from a career-long 73-yard catch and run by wide receiver Terren Encalade in the second quarter, the Wave did not have any more answers until it was too late. A flurry of three touchdowns in the last 18 minutes pulled Tulane within 34-28, but South Florida (7-0, 4-0) recovered an onside kick and got the one first down it needed to run out the clock.
Flowers, who rushed for 1,530 yards and passed for 2,812 last year, recaptured the junior level that made him the American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year. He was simply better than any Tulane defender trying to tackle him, finishing with a season-high 138 yards rushing on 13 carries and throwing for another 127, adding the two scoring tosses.
With the Bulls leading 7-0 in the second quarter, linebacker Zach Harris had a clear shot at him on a third-down blitz and grabbed air as he took off for a first down. South Florida running back Darius Tice scored untouched from 45 yards out on the next play.
After Encalade’s touchdown cut the deficit to 13-7, Flowers scrambled 13 yards for another first down before hitting wide receiver Darnell Salomon with a 38-yard touchdown strike 42 seconds before halftime.
The Bulls needed three plays in the second half to pad their lead. A 43-yard run by Tice set up Flowers for another deep pass, this time a 28-yarder to Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the back of the end zone. Cornerback Donnie Lewis, the victim on the first long score, tried to knock the ball away as they fell to the ground to no avail.
Providing one more reminder just how good he is, Flowers spun away from an outside rusher on third-and-15 on South Florida’s next series and took off for 31 yards before sliding at the Tulane 22. His 9-yard keeper on third-and-10 to the Wave 2 set up yet another touchdown as the Bulls went ahead 34-7 with 7:35 left in the third quarter.
"If you lose your gap, he’s going to kill you,” Tulane coach Willie Fritz said. “He’ll step up in the pocket, and there were three times we sent the house and lost leverage to the outside. We worked on it all week, but when you get out there and see the real deal, it’s totally different.”
Partly by design because the Bulls did not need him to do everything against a soft schedule, Flowers was on pace for fewer than 1,000 yards rushing this year before running into Tulane.
Getting its first crack at a ranked team in Yulman Stadium in Fritz’s two-year tenure, the Green Wave was too sloppy to give itself a good chance to win, racking up 12 penalties for 137 yards that nullified three touchdowns.
Sherman Badie returned a kickoff from the end zone, then reversed course and was tackled at the Tulane 2. The Wave also was penalized for a block in the back on the play.
From there, Tulane turned what looked like a blowout loss into a close defeat, but it wasn’t enough.