TAMPA, Fla. -- The Bearcats continued to hurt themselves with penalties and costly turnovers Saturday night, in a crushing 33-3 loss to South Florida.
Cincinnati (2-5, 0-3), blown out by a Florida team ranked in the Top 25 for the second straight week, has lost seven straight American Athletic Conference games dating to last season. The Bearcats were trounced at home last week by UCF, which is tied with USF for first place in the league’s East Division.
Cincinnati’s defense played considerably better than the previous week when UCF’s McKenzie Milton threw for five TDs and the Bearcats yielded 515 yards and 51 points in just three quarters.
But with USF coming off putting up 61 against East Carolina and ranked 10th nationally in total offense at more than 500 yards per game, it was difficult to imagine the struggling Bearcats faring much better against the Bulls.
Quinton Flowers eclipsed 3,000 yards career rushing and scored one touchdown to help No. 18 South Florida shrug off a slow start and extend the nation’s longest winning streak to 11 games. The dual-threat quarterback also set up a TD with a long completion to Temi Alaka and linebacker Auggie Sanchez scored on a 65-yard interception return on the final play of the first half for the Bulls (6-0, 3-0 AAC), who’ve matched the best start in school history.
“We play much better than we did,” coach Charlie Strong said, noting that his team still has yet to put together in which the Bulls have shined on offense, defense and special teams.
“We don’t know how far we can go because we haven’t played a complete game yet,” Strong added. “When that happens, we’ll see what kind of team we have.”
USF also began 6-0 in 2007, climbing to a No. 2 ranking in The Associated Press Poll before plummeting out of the national spotlight with three consecutive losses.
The Bulls scored at least 30 points in a game for the 23rd consecutive game, tying the longest such stretch in college football since 1936. Oregon did it during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, while USF’s streak began in 2015.
Flowers scored on a 1-yard run in the third and finished with a team-high 80 yards rushing on 15 attempts. In addition to increasing his career rushing total to 3,069, the senior completed 16 of 29 for 184 yards.
He had difficulty finishing drives early, with the Bulls settling for first-half field goals of 38, 28 and 21 yards before Darius Tice scored on an 11-yard run to hike USF’s lead to 16-3 with 2:24 remaining in the opening half.
Cincinnati dug a deeper hole when Hayden Moore -- on an untimed down awarded because USF was penalized for being offside on what should have been the final play of the half -- was way off the mark on the pass Sanchez picked off and returned for his TD.
“It’s tough to overcome some things like that, and it showed tonight,” Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said. “It was a swift kick that was really, really difficult to overcome.”
The Bearcats avoided a shutout with a 30-yard field goal by Ryan Jones, who also missed a 39-yarder with the Bearcats trailing 5-3 in the second quarter. They were flagged seven times in the opening half and finished with 11 penalties for 98 yards. Moore’s fumble late in the third quarter led to a field goal that made it 33-3.
The Bulls, who’ve never won a conference title in any of the three leagues they’ve been a part of, are building confidence by the victory. They are 16-3 in AAC games over the past three seasons and have seven straight conference games dating to last season.
Moore accounted for most of Cincinnati’s offense in last week’s loss to UCF, throwing for 278 yards and one TD while also rushing for a career-best 75 yards and two TDs. The Bearcats relied heavily on him again, with the junior quarterback finishing 16 of 28 passing for 147 yards and one interception before being replaced by backup Ross Trail in the fourth quarter.
USF improved to 24-4 over its last 28 games, tied for the fourth-best mark in the country over that stretch behind Alabama, Clemson and San Diego State. The Bulls are the AAC’s highest ranked team, ahead of No. 22 UCF and No. 25 Navy, who both are unbeaten, too.
Cincinnati: Returns home to face SMU next Saturday.
South Florida: On road next Saturday night at Tulane.