Bulls keep winning ugly at homecoming
TAMPA – Saturday’s homecoming affair against UConn resembled so much that has taken place so far this season for USF. That is to say things looked downright ugly at times, but in the end the Bulls had the larger number on the scoreboard.
A 38-30 homecoming victory over UConn in front of 42,127 at times restless patrons at Raymond James Stadium kept the Bulls (7-0/3-0 AAC) unbeaten as they equaled their best start in program history, set last season.
The victory came despite the opposition scoring first for the fifth time in six games and the hosts not getting on the scoreboard until 43 seconds remained in the opening half against a UConn (1-6/0-4) team that was last nationally in allowing 53.7 points per game.
Then there were the 322 yards rushing allowed, three turnovers and nine penalties for 90 yards. Yet, the Bulls piled up 611 yards on 65 plays and prevailed in yet another disjointed effort.
“We haven’t done it all year long,” coach Charlie Strong said, when asked about the inability to put together a 60-minute game. “In the first half the offense couldn’t get it going and in the second half the defense couldn’t stop (UConn). We’re not complete and we need to be complete in our game.”
The Bulls better find a way to iron out many inconsistencies and do so quickly because the heavy lifting begins next week at Houston. That is followed by a season-ending stretch of four games that includes trips to Cincinnati and Temple — the Owls knocked the Bearcats from the ranks of the unbeaten Saturday — and a Thanksgiving weekend clash with UCF. The teams remaining on the schedule are a combined 26-10.
“It’s a big test next week and it’s on the road,” said Strong. “If we play like we did tonight, we’ll really get embarrassed.”
It was bad enough trailing lowly UConn 7-0 late in the first half. Johnny Ford capped an 80-yard drive with a 15-yard touchdown run with 43 seconds remaining in the half to draw the Bulls even.
USF took the lead for good when Randall St. Felix took a pass from Blake Barnett in the right flat and went 75 yards on the first play of the second half to make it 14-7.
The Bulls took their biggest lead of the night, 31-14, early in the fourth quarter. Nick Roberts’ 61-yard interception return on the first play of the quarter set USF up at the UConn 15-yard line, from where Ford scored the second of his three touchdowns. The 5-foot-5 freshman ran for 164 yards on only seven carries.
“O-line did what it supposed to do,” he said. “It came out and executed and we came out on top. At the end of the day, we came out and got the “W,” so I’m happy for that.”
Ford’s third touchdown run went for 43 yards with 4:46 remaining to put the Bulls up 38-23. UConn still had life, though, and came within 38-30 after quarterback David Pindell’s (330 total yards, 197 rushing) 12-yard run with 2:24 to play.
Nobody could breathe easy until Trevon Sands recovered the ensuing onside kick at the Huskies’ 39-yard line with 2:20 remaining.
“We know we have to play better and we are not where we should be,” said Strong. “But 7-0 is better than 0-7.”
That it is.
The Bulls are among only five unbeaten teams after Ohio State, Cincinnati and North Carolina State went down in defeat.…USF is 11-5 all-time against UConn and has won the last seven….Jordan Cronkrite (103 yards rushing) tied a school mark with his fifth straight 100-yard game. He equaled the mark set by Marlon Mack (2015) and Quinton Flowers (2016)…..Randall St. Felix had his third 100-yard receiving game. In addition to 123 yards on two catches Saturday night, he had 143 yards in the opener against Elon and 120 at Illinois….The Bulls’ second-leading tackler, linebacker Nico Sawtelle, was held out due to injury….True freshman Brad Cecil got the start at center….In addition to his 61-yard interception return, Nick Roberts had a career-high 10 tackles.