NEW ORLEANS — After half a season of mismatches, USF found itself in a grudge match Saturday night.
But its one-time dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate, whose entire life has been a veritable grudge match, flourished just when nip and tuck converged at Yulman Stadium.
As a result, the 16th-ranked Bulls are 7-0 for the first time.
Senior quarterback Quinton Flowers totaled 265 yards and accounted for three touchdowns to help the Bulls (7-0, 4-0 American Athletic Conference) escape the big uneasy with a 34-28 victory against Tulane (3-4, 1-2).
The Bulls extended their nation-best win streak to 12 games and now have sole possession of the all-time Division I-A record for consecutive games with at least 30 points (24).
But all those streaks at times appeared in peril on a warm, windy New Orleans night before an announced crowd of 17,256.
USF led 34-7 with 2:07 to play in the third quarter before Tulane answered with 21 consecutive points, the last a Dontrell Hilliard 16-yard scoring run with 2:45 to go. But slot receiver Tyre McCants snagged the ensuing onside kick — his second in a row — and the Bulls were able to run out the clock.
They sealed things on Darius Tice's 30-yard run moments after Tulane called its final timeout. Tice finished with a career-best 141 yards on 13 carries.
Tulane controlled the ball more than 21 minutes in the first half and trailed only 13-7 at halftime as USF twice started drives inside its 2-yard line.
Flowers (138 rushing yards) gave USF a quick 7-0 lead when he took a shotgun snap, feinted left and right, then dashed up the middle for a 21-yard touchdown to cap a 10-play drive.
He went 3-for-3 for 24 yards on the possession as USF —- maligned lately for being bent on power running — stretched the field horizontally. It was the first time Tulane had allowed a point on an opening drive all season.
It was also the only possession USF would have in the opening period.
Tulane initially succeeded in keeping the Bulls mildly off-balance with its mix of triple-option and spread formations. Still, the Green Wave couldn't move past the USF 30 on their first four possessions.
Flowers gave the Bulls some breathing room when, on third and 10 from his own 43, he improvised up the middle for a 12-yard gain. The next play, Tice dashed up the middle for a 45-yard touchdown to give USF a 13-0 lead.
Tulane answered when quarterback Jonathan Banks found Green Wave leading receiver Terren Encalade on a slant pattern for a 73-yard touchdown. But with 42 seconds before halftime, Flowers found Darnell Salomon in single coverage for a 38-yard touchdown.
On the first play of the second half, Tice picked up 43 yards. Two plays later, Flowers found 6-foot-5 senior Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the right corner of the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown, giving USF a 27-7 lead.
The Green Wave rally followed shortly thereafter. Tulane finished with 461 total yards — 44 fewer than USF — as Hilliard ran for 140 on 24 carries. Banks, flourishing with the slant pass, finished 9-of-19 for 221 yards and two touchdowns.
Contact Joey Knight at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.