TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Quinton Flowers threw for 280 yards and four touchdowns and No. 22 South Florida returned from a Hurricane Irma-imposed layoff to rout Illinois, 47-23, on Friday night.
Flowers moved ahead of Matt Grothe and B.J. Daniels into second place on USF’s career touchdown pass list with 53. The 2016 American Athletic Conference offensive player of the year also scored his 32nd rushing touchdown, tying Marlon Mack’s school record.
The Bulls (3-0) beat a Big Ten opponent for the first time on a night USF honored first responders who worked the past week to help victims of the massive storm that impacted the entire state of Florida.
Illinois (2-1) stumbled in what also was a homecoming of sorts for coach Lovie Smith, who returned to the stadium where he led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two seasons before being fired and accepting the challenge of rebuilding the Illini.
Illini freshman Mike Epstein scored on a 46-yard run and a 21-yard pass from Jeff George Jr., who replaced starter Chayce Crouch in the second half.
Flowers completed 15 of 25 passes, including TD throws of 39 yards to Deangelo Antoine, 17 yards to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, 17 yards to D’Ernest Johnson and 13 yards to Tyre McCants. Flowers also scored on a 6-yard run on the last play of the first half and finished with a team-best 106 of USF’s 376 yards rushing.
Johnson and Darius Tice joined Flowers in topping 100 yards rushing, with USF amassing 680 yards total offense to Illinois’ 354.
Illinois: Played like a young team that will struggle against strong competition. The Illini committed 12 penalties for 110 yards in the first half alone — embarrassing, unless you consider USF was even worse up to that point with 14 penalties for 115 yards. Epstein continues to be a reason to feel good about the program’s future, finishing with 56 yards rushing, 27 receiving and two TDs.
USF began the season ranked 19th and slipped three spots after having to overcome slow starts to beat San Jose State on the road and Stony Brook at home. Illinois might be the best of the teams they’ve faced but a less-than-sharp performance against the Illini likely won’t do much to improve their position.
Illinois: Off next week before the Big Ten opener at home against Nebraska on Sept. 29.
South Florida: Remain home for the American Athletic Conference opener against Temple on Thursday night.
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