BOWL RECAP: USF Bulls fall to No. 25 Western Kentucky, 45-35

TAMPA -- Season offensive records were shattered as USF put on a show in a 45-35 shootout loss to No. 25 Western Kentucky at the Miami Beach Bowl on Monday afternoon.

The Bulls (8-5) exploded for 597 total yards in its impressive postseason return and nearly came back from a 17-point second-half deficit in front of a crowd of 21,712 filled with roaring Green and Gold at Marlins Park.

“The future is bright for USF football. There are a lot of guys returning next year,” said head coach Willie Taggart, who signed a three-year extension after bringing the Bulls back to their winning ways with seven victories in their final nine games this season.

Miami native Quinton Flowers put on a dazzling performance in his return home, throwing for a career-high 273 yards and a touchdown and rushing for two scores. The sophomore totaled 108 of USF’s 290 yards on the ground and set a new USF quarterback season record with 991 yards rushing, the sixth-best season mark overall, and 12 TD runs.

Sophomore Marlon Mack (Sarasota) also rushed for 108 yards – his record ninth 100-yard game of the year - and set a new USF season rushing record with 1,381 yards. 

Junior Rodney Adams (St. Petersburg) posted 130 receiving yards and a touchdown while breaking the program’s season receiving records with 822 yards and nine TD on the year. Adams added a 34-yard touchdown run that helped give USF a 14-0 lead in the second quarter.

USF set a new season record with 5,741 yards of total offense and fell 14 points shy of matching the program’s scoring record of 451 points set in 2007.

Conference USA champion WKU (12-2) took control of the game with 28 points in the third quarter and totaled 612 yards. Game MVP Brandon Doughty threw for 461 yards and three touchdowns, while Anthony Wales rushed for 105 yards and two touchdowns.

Back in a bowl game for the first time since 2010, USF seized the momentum early with 14 straight points and took a 14-10 lead into halftime.

USF started the scoring with a 12-yard touchdown run by Flowers with 5:21 remaining in the opening quarter. Flowers set a new USF season quarterback record for rushing TD passing Matt Grothe (10, 2007).

USF was back in business early in the second quarter following a 23-yard return on Nigel Harris’ first-career interception. The Bulls celebrated in the end zone five plays later after a career-long 34-yard touchdown run by Adams with 12:18 to go before halftime.

WKU followed with 10 unanswered points, but fell well short of its first-half season scoring averaging of 28.3 points.

USF has fooled opponents with trick plays all season and used another one to get right back in it in the third quarter. D’Ernest Johnson hooked up with Tyre McCants on a 34-yard halfback touchdown pass as USF cut its deficit to 24-21 with 4:55 remaining in the third quarter.

Down 38-21, USF roared back on a 14-0 run with most of the fourth quarter to go.

“I believed when we were 17 points down, I never lost faith,” Mack said. “Always keep fighting to the last minute.”

After grabbing USF’s season receiving record, Adams helped cut the Bulls’ deficit to 38-28 with a 53-yard touchdown catch with 14:53 to play. Flowers kept the comeback going with an 8-yard touchdown run with 11 minutes remaining.

Lee got the ball back for USF by intercepting a deflected pass on the ensuing drive and returned it to the 50-yard line. USF got as far as the WKU 36 and Nadelman’s game-tying 54-yard field goal attempt was long enough but sailed wide left with 5:58 to play.

WKU gained the distance it needed with a 42-yard touchdown run by Wales that helped put the Hilltoppers ahead, 45-35, with 5:09 to play.

Despite the loss, USF has shown the nation it’s back to being a major player on the college football scene with an incredible turnaround season.

“I’m very proud of this football team. I’m very proud of the seniors,” Taggart said. “I was excited they got a chance to be in a bowl game and disappointed that we didn’t get a win for them. The future is bright for USF Football. We have a lot of guys returning and we’ll get back to work.”

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