SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — The start of the Charlie Strong era at South Florida didn’t quite go as scripted. Now that it’s over the coach of the 19th-ranked Bulls is actually pretty pleased that his team had to show the ability to overcome some adversity.
Quinton Flowers threw two touchdown passes and D’Ernest Johnson had two TD runs in a dominant second quarter that helped South Florida rally from an early 16-point deficit to beat San Jose State 42-22 on Saturday.
“It’s good that you have a good game like this so now guys know there’s improvement to be made,” Strong said. “We can’t get complacent. You want a game like this. It’s not as much pressure as they think it is but you have to play well to win games.”
The Bulls were held to 22 yards in the opening quarter, the defense allowed two early TD passes by Josh Love and two ineffective punts set up two scores for the Spartans.
But the game turned when Josh Black stuffed Malike Roberson for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-1 from the South Florida 33 in the closing minute of the first quarter with San Jose State leading 16-0.
“I told the guys we can’t flinch,” Flowers said. “We’ve been down like that before. It was time where I had to step up and tell the team, ‘Let’s go.’”
It took less than nine minutes for the Bulls to turn that big early deficit into a lead with help from a pair of interceptions off deflected passes by Josh Love. Flowers started the comeback with a 24-yard touchdown pass to Darnell Salomon, Johnson followed with a TD run on fourth-and-goal from the 2 and Flowers followed with a 49-yard scoring strike to Temi Alaka.
Johnson capped the four-touchdown, 271-yard quarter with a tight-rope act down the sideline for a 50-yard touchdown run that made it 28-16 and the rout was on in the second half.
“I thought we did some good stuff early and we were executing,” Love said. “The scoring fell off it felt like we needed to answer their scores and we just didn’t.”
Flowers added a touchdown run in the fourth quarter and finished 11 for 23 for 212 yards passing and 70 yards on 18 carries.
Strong took over at South Florida after being fired following three losing seasons at Texas. He went 16-21 with the Longhorns after a successful stint at head coach at Louisville and now will look to have similar success with the Bulls.
SOUTH FLORIDA: The Bulls entered the season with lofty expectations after tying the 2008 squad for the highest preseason ranking in school history. The early struggles could be a sign of concern or just the normal process of finding a rhythm under a new coaching staff. One bright spot all game was a stout run defense that held San Jose State to 2.9 yards per carry.
SAN JOSE STATE: The Spartans looked far more competitive in their opener under coach Brent Brennan but still lost for the 24th time in their past 25 meetings against ranked teams. Love threw two touchdown passes to Bailey Gaither in the first quarter to open up the big lead.
Gaither also blocked a punt that set up his second touchdown and the San Jose State defense held one of the nation’s most dynamic quarterbacks in check for one quarter.
But the offense failed to get much going after the first quarter with Love throwing three interceptions. Backup QB Montel Aaron threw a TD pass in the fourth quarter.
The defensive highlight for the Bulls came on San Jose State’s first drive of the third quarter when Juwuan Brown slammed Zamore Zigler with a 5-yard loss on a crushing hit.
SPEED IT UP
The Bulls are playing at a much faster tempo on offense this season and ran a school-record 101 plays in the opener. That helped wear down the Spartans and contributed to a 315-yard rushing night.
“This offense is really fast,” Flowers said. “You get to the point where you get a defense very tired. That’s what you have to see in a defense. You pick them apart and just keep moving.”
With no new poll until Sept. 5, this game doesn’t figure to have much impact on the Bulls ranking.
SOUTH FLORIDA: The Bulls their home opener next Saturday against Stony Brook of the FCS.
SAN JOSE STATE: The Spartans get a bit of a breather in a grueling nonconference schedule when they host FCS-level Cal Poly next weekend before making trips to No. 23 Texas and Utah the following two weeks.