Despite being held to just seven first half points by the worst defense college football has seen since the Woodrow Wilson administration, the No. 21 South Florida Bulls prevailed 38-30 over the UConn Huskies to remain perfect in front of 41,127 on Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium.
“We got the victory but we didn’t play as well as we’re capable of playing,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “First half, offense couldn’t get it going...second half, defense couldn’t stop them. We’re not complete.”
USF (7-0, 3-0 AAC) trailed 7-0 early after junior quarterback Blake Barnett was picked off on a 3rd & 21 that the Huskies turned into a five play, 58-yard touchdown drive.
Barnett completed 20-of-28 passes for 265 yards and a touchdown, and added another score on the ground but tossed two interceptions.
“I sound like a broken record, but we should have came out better in the first half,” Barnett said. “We keep shooting ourselves in the foot and we got to do better.”
USF’s first five drives of the game resulted in two interceptions and three punts as UConn grabbed a 7-0 lead after one quarter.
The Bulls were held scoreless until freshman running back Johnny Ford went up the gut for a 15-yard score with 43 seconds remaining in the first half.
Ford finished with his first career 100-yard game, scoring three times on seven carries for 164 yards, including a (seemingly) game-sealing 43-yard touchdown run with 4:46 to play.
“The first touchdown gave me confidence,” Ford added. “At the end of the day, we got the W and we executed the plays we needed to make. We got a lot of stuff in store, if we haven’t played our best football, imagine when we do.”
Tied 7-7, freshman Randall St. Felix caught a short pass from Barnett and exploded down the sideline for a 75-yard score on the first play of the second half, igniting a 17-point third quarter for USF.
UConn senior quarterback David Pindell wouldn’t let the Bulls pull away however, as he rushed for 197 yards on 28 carries.
“We’re taught on defense just to make each other right, and we just weren’t doing that the way we’re supposed to,” said USF defensive end Greg Reaves. “It was a little too close for comfort, couple of mistakes and penalty and bad fits.”
Freshman DB Nick Roberts hauled in his second interception of the season on the first play of the final quarter, returning it 61 yards to the Huskies 15-yard line before Ford scampered into the end zone on the very next play to make it 31-14 USF.
“I was in the middle of the post, he kept looking down to his left, my right, and I got paid,” Roberts said of his interception. “Teams are preparing well against us, they know what we are doing, we have to play harder and execute.”
After the Huskies put together an 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive, scooped up a Jordan Cronkrite fumble, and kicked a 38-yard field goal the lead was trimmed to 31-23.
Ford’s 43-yard touchdown run sealed the deal, as UConn would score again to make it 38-30 but didn’t have enough time to get the ball back.
USF will next head to Houston for a massive intra-divisional clash with the one-loss Cougars, Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on ABC.
“D’Eriq King (Houston QB) will rush for about 500 yards if we don’t watch him,” Strong added postgame. “We play at Houston like we played tonight, we’ll really get embarrassed.”
- With Ford at 164 yards and Cronkrite (despite struggling) running for 103 yards, USF finished with two 100-yard rushers for the 15th time in program history, and first since Quinton Flowers/Darius Tice in 2016.
- Cronkrite became the third Bull (Quinton Flowers, Marlon Mack) to rush for over 100 yards in five consecutive games.
- USF is 7-0 for a second straight year, but has never started a season 8-0.
- The Bulls’ 11 wins vs. UConn is the most against any opponent in program history.