Junior quarterback Blake Barnett found wide receiver Darnell Salomon wide open for a 50-yard touchdown with 2:24 left in the fourth quarter to help the South Florida Bulls escape with a 25-19 victory over the Illinois Fighting Illini at Soldier Field in Chicago.
“We’re a better football team than what we showed today, but we come out with a win,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “At the end of the day, you want to make sure you win the game.”
Four minutes into the game, Illinois (2-1) jumped out to an early 7-0 lead before the Bulls responded with an 11-play, 75-yard drive in 3:02 to tie things up on Jordan Cronkrite’s first touchdown in the green and gold.
The Bulls junior running back added a career-high 136 yards on the ground with one touchdown on 22 carries.
Trailing 19-7, the Bulls (3-0) scored 18 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and took their first lead of the night on the Salomon touchdown.
Barnett completed 23-of-40 attempts for 411 yards, good for the second-best passing performance in USF history. Both of his touchdown passes were to the junior Salomon in the fourth quarter, who finished with five catches for 95 yards.
Redshirt freshman Randall St. Felix played a large role in the comeback, completing his second 100-yard game with 120 receiving yards including a 55-yard jump-ball reception early in the fourth quarter.
“We have a bunch of talent. You look at us on offense, St. Felix had five catches and he had the really big one down there,” Strong added. “Salomon had two touchdowns and Cronkrite rushed for 136, so you’ve got enough weapons. It’s all about just getting the ball and making the plays.”
Junior tight end Mitchell Wilcox had a career game himself, hauling in eight catches for 109 yards, a new USF TE record.
The Bulls totaled five sacks on the day, but none were bigger than three from Kirk Livingstone, Kevin Kegler and Tyrone Barber on the final Illinois drive, securing the Bulls victory.
Defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary made the in-game adjustments Bulls’ fans have come to except and held the Illini to just three points and 149 yards of offense in the second half after allowing 231 yards in the first half.
Registering 626 yards of total offense, it was the 12th straight game in which the Bulls have posted at least 400 yards.
USF will return home to Raymond James Stadium on Saturday to open up American Athletic Conference play against East Carolina. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m on ESPNews.
- USF was 4-of-13 (30.7%) on third down. They were 17-of-30 (56.6%) in the first two games.
- The Bulls were penalized 14 times for 124 yards. They committed 12 penalties in the first two games combined.
- Linebackers Khalid McGee (14) and Nico Sawtelle (13), and nickel Ronnie Hoggins (11) led the defense in tackles.
- In the decisive fourth quarter, USF averaged 11.4 yards per play. The Illini averaged 3.4.