USF goes for 10th win against Texas Tech

A repeat trip to the Birmingham Bowl may not have been what South Florida had in mind going into the season, but with losses to Houston and UCF knocking them out of contention for a New Year’s Six appearance, the Bulls have had to reset their postseason goals.

On the line when the Bulls (9-2) take on Texas Tech (6-6) at Legion Field on Saturday afternoon will be a program-first second consecutive double-digit win season as well as the opportunity for a fifth bowl win in their last six postseason appearances and sixth overall.

Quarterback Quinton Flowers will have as many as nine more program records within his sights to go with the 25 he already holds or shares, including wins for a starting quarterback (30), career rushing yards and touchdown passes.

And there’s also the issue of getting back some of the national attention the Bulls had garnered with their 7-0 start.

Coach Charlie Strong made note of that after a recent practice.

“You get a chance to go play a Power 5 from the Big 12 Conference,” Strong said. “You’re going to get national exposure again, and we need to go out and play well.

“It’s a good way to end the season.”

The game promises to be an entertaining one with lots of offensive fireworks. The Bulls are averaging 38.3 points (No. 15 in FBS statistics), the Red Raiders 34.3. The Bulls have an edge in defensive numbers, holding opponents to 22.5 points per game to Texas Tech’s 31.8, but they gave up 533 yards to UCF in their finale.

“I think they can match up well with anybody when you talk about speed and athleticism,” Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury said of the Bulls. “They can play with anybody in the country, there’s no question about that. So we’ll have our hands full. We know that.”

Strong knows of Texas Tech’s potential from the three years he spent at Texas.

“I’ve always had a lot of respect for coach Kingsbury,” Strong said. “When I was in the Big 12, Texas Tech was always a team that gave you a lot of issues, a lot of problems because they can spread the ball out. They can score at any time on the field.”

Two veteran quarterbacks lead the respective offenses.

Tech’s Nic Shimonek is 12th in passing yards per game with his 295.6 average. He didn’t start the regular-season finale against Texas, but came off the bench when the offense stalled and rallied the Red Raiders to the 27-23 victory with a pair of touchdown passes in the fourth quarter.

Kingsbury said the redshirt senior, who has completed 68.2 percent of his 434 pass attempts for 30 touchdowns against only eight interceptions, will start against the Bulls.

“I think that game really helped his confidence,” Kingsbury said, “and I expect him to play at a high level in the bowl game.”

Play at a high level — that’s exactly what Flowers did for USF last year in earning game MVP honors in the 46-39 bowl win over South Carolina. He rushed for 105 yards and was 23 of 32 for 261 more and two touchdowns. This season he ranks 11th in the country in total offense per game (324.7 yards) and will set a school single-season record for passing yardage if he throws for 312 against the Red Raiders.

“He is a real dual threat-type guy,” Kingsbury said. “To deal with the transition into the new offense like he did and still have the same type success, I thought was very impressive going into his senior year.

“He’s one of the best playmakers in America so we’ll have our hands full trying to contain him.”

Flowers is the team’s leading rusher with 972 yards to go with his 2,600 passing yards. He has 21 touchdown passes against only six picks.

“Q can throw the ball over the top and the thing he does with his running ability, you can’t leave your coverage,” Strong said. “His eyes are always down the field, and he’s always looking for a throw.”

Senior Marquez Valdes-Scantling leads the Bulls receivers with 50 catches for 746 yards. Tech junior Keke Coutee is ninth in the country in receiving yards with 1,241 on 82 catches, a 103.5 per-game average that ranks No. 8 in FBS.