Powered by a four touchdown performance from quarterback Blake Barnett in his green and gold debut, the South Florida Bulls downed the Elon Phoenix 34-14 on Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium.
Barnett completed 24-of-34 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns, adding another score on the ground. His passing yardage total was second-highest by a Bulls quarterback in a starting debut.
“Great team victory,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “But to watch him (Barnett) come out tonight and play well, it’s good for his confidence. And it’s good for the whole team, because now the whole team sees their quarterback.”
The Bulls (1-0) set the tone early, when senior DE Vincent Jackson hauled down the first interception of his USF career on Elon’s first drive of the game.
Following the pick, Barnett connected with redshirt freshman Randall St. Felix in stride for a perfect 40-yard touchdown pass to make it 7-0 USF, completing a five play, 70-yard opening drive in just 1:15.
St. Felix burst onto the wide receiver scene, finishing with an impressive 143 yards on seven catches.
“He has looked the way he looked tonight since Spring practice,” Strong said of St.Felix. “Just a big, strong physical receiver with good hands. He can stretch the vertical or he can make the five-yard catch and turn into it a big yardage play.”
After the Bulls third drive of the game stalled near the red zone, senior kicker Jake Vivonetto attempted and made his first career field goal from 33-yards out to give the Bulls a 10-0 advantage. Vivonetto also nailed a 41-yard kick in the fourth quarter.
Leading 10-0, Barnett found senior Tyre McCants in the middle of the field and to the surprise of nobody, the 240-pounder broke a couple tackles and nearly dragged an Elon defender into the end zone for a 16-yard score later in the first half.
USF grabbed a 24-0 halftime lead after junior tight end Mitchell Wilcox was left uncovered in the middle of the end zone, hauling in a 14-yard touchdown pass.
On the opening drive of the second half, and after being stuffed on a third-and-goal, Barnett plowed his way through for a two-yard rushing touchdown to make it a 31-0 USF lead.
“It meant a lot,” Barnett said. “It’s been a long time coming, a really long time. This is only my 22nd day in the pads and running this offense...to get out there and play with these guys is everything.”
Both backup quarterbacks, junior Brett Kean and sophomore Chris Oladokun, saw plenty of action in the second half.
Kean completed of 3-of-7 passes for 37 yards, while Oladokun completed 2-of-5 throws for 25 yards, adding 13 more on the ground.
While both of Elon’s touchdowns came in the final 20 minutes of the game, the Bulls defense seemed to take their foot off the gas late during the latter portions of the second half.
“I think we let up,” said redshirt freshman safety Bentlee Sanders. “We didn’t finish. They shouldn’t have scored. It should have been a goose egg the whole time, but we just slowed down.” Sanders finished with 10 tackles for the Bulls defense.
USF will return home next Saturday at noon against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
“It’s gonna be a totally different team.” Strong said. “We have enough guys where we can run, so let’s get the ball on the perimeter and make people run us down. And if they can catch us, we’re not as fast as we thought we were.”