Halftime at the Birmingham Bowl: South Florida 29, South Carolina 14

December 29, 2016

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Quinton Flowers wove around and through the South Carolina defense, and carried South Florida into the lead at halftime of the Birmingham Bowl.

South Florida’s dynamic quarterback looked the part, setting a bowl record with three rushing touchdowns before halftime, and leading the Bulls to a 29-14 advantage over South Carolina at intermission Thursday. South Florida entered the game as a 10-point favorite, and ranked No. 25 in the most recent AP poll.

South Carolina needs a second-half comeback to extend its program-record streak of bowl wins to five straight. USC fell behind 15-0 as it struggled to establish the run and slow Flowers, finally closing the gap as it relied more heavily on true freshman quarterback Jake Bentley, now wearing his old high school number of 19.

Flowers got USF on the board with a 4-yard keeper early in the first, and the Bulls faked the point-after attempt, with holder Brett Kean throwing to tight end Mitchell Wilcox for the two-point conversion and an 8-0 lead. Flowers made it 15-0 on an eye-popping 4-yard scoring run in which he pump-faked past one USC defender and wove around another. He set up the TD with a 29-yard run on a misdirection play.

The Gamecocks finally scored early in the second quarter, when Bentley found Deebo Samuel and Hayden Hurst for big gains, and then hit Hurst for 25 yards in the end zone. It was the first receiving touchdown this season for Hurst, who set a school record this year for catches by a tight end.

But soon enough, Flowers was at it again. He found D’Ernest Johnson for a 22-yard pickup on fourth down, and walked into the end zone from two yards out on a play fake in which most of USC’s defense bit on the running back. He had three rushing TDs, a bowl record for any offensive player, with 10:40 still left in the half.

USC tried to rally, getting down to the USF 12 before a fourth-down pass from Bentley glanced wide off Hurst’s fingertips. The Gamecocks forced the Bulls to punt, and pulled within 22-14 on a 3-yard TD pass from Bentley to Samuel with 1:12 left in the half. It was also the first receiving touchdown this season for Samuel, whose other scores had all come on the ground.

But Flowers wasn’t done. On fourth-and-3 from the USC 37 with 17 seconds left, he found a wide-open Johnson for a gut-punch of a score that put the Bulls ahead 29-14 at the break. Johnson found a gaping hole in coverage, and USC cornerback Chris Lammons regrouped too late. The USF running back was brought down at the goal line, and the score stood on review.

USF’s 29 first-half points were also a bowl record. Flowers finished the half with 67 rushing yards, 200 passing yards, and four total touchdowns. Bentley’s 198 passing yards and two TDs carried USC, which managed just 30 yards on the ground.