BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Charlie Strong is facing a familiar opponent in his first bowl game with South Florida.
The former Texas coach leads the 23rd-ranked Bulls (9-2) into the Birmingham Bowl on Saturday against Texas Tech (6-6), the Longhorns’ Big 12 Conference rival. Strong isn’t banking too much on that familiarity.
“It’s just totally two different teams,” said Strong, who was 2-1 against the Red Raiders with the Longhorns. “You look at last year they had a quarterback (Patrick Mahomes) who was a first-round draft pick. In three years at Texas, we had some really good games and Kliff (Kingsbury) has done a very good job with that team.
“It’s a very explosive offense, can score at any time, very aggressive on defense.”
Texas Tech’s Kingsbury said there’s a different look from those Texas teams because of personnel, including a dual-threat quarterback.
“I don’t see too much carry over outside the fact that coach Strong’s teams are always well coached and play very hard,” Kingsbury said.
Strong is trying to finish his first season at South Florida by helping the Bulls reach double-digit wins and finish in the Top 25 for the second straight year.
Both defenses are tasked with defending dangerous quarterbacks, though they have different styles.
South Florida’s Quinton Flowers is a running and passing threat while Texas Tech’s Nic Shimonek is a prolific passer. Kingsbury said it’s hard to find a scout teamer to simulate a player like Flowers.
“The quickness and athleticism that Quinton brings is a different animal,” Kingsbury said. “He’s like a very dynamic wide receiver who’s a very athletic passer back there, trying to corral him.”
The Red Raiders became bowl eligible with a comeback win over the Longhorns, who led by 10 points early in the fourth quarter. Strong said he didn’t watch the game except while studying Texas Tech film.
“It was a really good football game,” he said.
Here are some things to watch in the Birmingham Bowl:
FLOWERS’ RECORDS: With 11,385 total yards in his career, Flowers needs just 47 total yards to break the American Athletic Conference record held by Temple’s Phillip Walker. He needs just 28 rushing yards to reach 2,500 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards for the second time; only Louisville’s Lamar Jackson had achieved that entering the postseason.
“It’s not on my mind,” Flowers said of the league record. “I just go out there and play the game. If it happens, it happens. I’m a team player. I’m always going to be a team player.”
NIC IN CHARGE: Texas Tech quarterback Nic Shimonek is expected to be back in the starting spot after coming off the bench to lead that fourth-quarter comeback in the regular season finale against Texas. It was the only time the senior didn’t start this season. Shimonek has passed for 3,547 yards and 30 touchdowns against just eight interceptions.
DEFENSIVE CHALLENGE: Texas Tech’s defense, which ranks 99th nationally in total yards, faces an offense that’s ninth in total yards at nearly 509 per game.
PROTECT THE BALL: Texas Tech has a plus-11 turnover margin, one shy of the school record set in 1997. South Florida, though, has lost a modest 12 turnovers, which is tied for 14th fewest nationally.
RETURN TRIPS: This is South Florida’s second straight Birmingham Bowl game against a Power 5 team. The Bulls beat South Carolina 46-39 in overtime last season with Strong watching from the sidelines before taking over the program. Texas Tech played at Legion Field in the 1989 All-American Bowl, beating No. 20 Duke 49-21.