SAN JOSE — San Jose State delivered a tantalizing first quarter in coach Brent Brennan’s debut on Saturday, but No. 19 South Florida was in charge the rest of the way in a 42-22 victory at CEFCU Spartan Stadium.
The Spartans used a pair of Josh Crawford to Bailey Gaither touchdowns passes to sculpt a 16-0 first quarter lead over the visitors from the American Athletic Conference.
The Bulls also lost standout defensive tackle Deadrin Senat on an ejection after a targeting penalty on the first of those two TDs, so things could hardly have gone any better for the underdog Spartans.
Linebacker Frank Ginda said he didn’t even know the score at that point, but had a good feeling about how his team was playing.
“I never look at the scoreboard,” he said. “But I wasn’t shocked. We have a really good team. I love the energy.”
But the energy — and the Spartans’ good fortune — did not last.
Dual-threat USF quarterback Quinton Flowers led the comeback. He threw a pair of second-quarter touchdowns and D’Earnest Johnson scored on runs of 2 and 50 yards.
By halftime the squad from Tampa, Florida, owned a 28-16 lead and all momentum against an SJSU team that dropped to 0-10 in season openers against Top-25 opponents.
“They’re one of those Group of Five teams we all have a lot of respect for. That’s kind of what we aspire to,” said Brennan, who was encouraged by his team’s fight. “We’ve got to do a better job everywhere — we lost by 20 points.”
The Spartans held the sloppy Bulls to 22 yards in the first quarter, used a blocked punt by Gaither to set up his second TD reception and did every right except having its second PAT kick blocked.
“We were able to get a little momentum,” Brennan said the first quarter. “The blocked punt was huge. The defense dug in.”
But South Florida woke up in the second quarter, steamrolling the Spartans for 271 yards and picking off two tipped passes by Love to set up 14 points.
Love, who wasn’t announced as the Spartans’ No. 1 quarterback until he trotted onto the field for the game’s first possession, completed 18 of 36 passes for 192 yards and three interceptions.
Love and redshirt freshman Montel Aaron waged a month-long camp battle for the starting quarterback spot. Aaron entered the game at the start of the fourth quarter and was 7 for 13 for 86 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown pass to Justin Holmes.
“They both did some good things,” said Brennan declining to name a starter going forward. “We will make that decision in the next couple days.”
SJSU had little success running the ball or defending the run.
Through three quarters, the Spartans rushed for just 75 yards on just 2.4 yards per attempt.
The Bulls wound up with 315 rushing yards, including 99 by Johnson and 70 by Flowers, who 11 for 23 for 212 yards through the air.
Stopping the run was a consistent trouble spot last year, when the Spartans allowed nearly 247 yards on the ground per game on the way to a 4-8 record that led to coach Ron Caragher’s firing after four seasons.
* One bright spot for the Spartans their punt unit. Senior punter Michael Carrizoza averaged 44.5 yards on 11 kicks, including a 68-yarder and four that were downed inside the 20-yard line, and the coverage team allowed zero return yards.
* With both teams running uptempo offenses, the game lasted 4 hours, 3 minutes and featured 189 snaps, 101 of them by USF.
* Asked if he thought the portion of the announced crowd 13,377 that exited in the second half was leaving to watch the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight, Brennan offered some perspective.
“I’m not sure we’re ready to compete with the fight of the century,” he said. “Hopefully, someday we will.”
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