By: USF Sports Media Department
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BOWLING GREEN, KY., SEPT. 2, 2023– The Bulls opened the 2023 USF Football Season presented by Tampa General Hospital, the first under first-time head coach Alex Golesh, with a hard-fought 41-24 loss at Conference USA preseason favorite Western Kentucky Saturday in Bowling Green, Ky.
The Bulls led 14-7 after the first quarter and tied the game at 24 with 10:11 to play in the third, but saw three turnovers derail an opportunity for the first season-opening win since 2020.
Western Kentucky, a team that won nine games last year and sported the top returning passer and receiver by yards in the FBS from 2022, used a 51-yard touchdown pass, a 42-yard field goal and a scoop and score off a quarterback sack to score the last 17 points and secure the home victory.
USF’s fast-tempo offense racked up 540 yards, including 374 and two 100-yard rushers on the ground, but couldn’t overcome costly turnovers, including an interception in the endzone after driving to the WKU 4 early in the fourth quarter. Sophomore quarterback Byrum Brown ran for 160 yards and two touchdowns and Florida transfer Nay’Quan Wright added a career-best 111 yards on 17 carries. Brown went 15-of-34 for 166 yards and a touchdown through the air, but also tossed two interceptions. Khafre Brown caught an 84-yard touchdown pass and totaled 95 yards on three catches while Sean Atkins had a team-high five catches for 43 yards.
The USF defense showed improvement over last year, forcing six three-and-outs and a turnover on downs against a potent WKU offense that ranked No. 7 nationally last year. Defensive backs Daquan Evans and Jaelen Stokes and linebacker DJ Gordon led the Bulls with five tackles each.
USF opened the Golesh era in impressive fashion, taking the opening kickoff and using three minutes and 24 seconds to drive 75 yards for a touchdown on Brown’s four-yard run.
The defense then forced the Hilltoppers to go three-and-out after defensive end Tramel Logan batted down a third-down attempt. It was the first of three three-and-outs and a turnover on four downs the Bulls forced on seven WKU first half possessions.
WKU evened the momentum when Brown was intercepted at midfield on USF’s second possession and the Hilltoppers went 53 yards in five plays to tie the game at seven.
USF responded as quarterback Brown hit wide receiver Brown streaking down the sideline for an 84-yard touchdown that gave USF a 14-7 lead. The play tied for the sixth-longest pass play in program history. The Bulls later tacked on a 37-yard John Cannon field goal for a 17-7 lead.
WKU tied the game at 17 on its last full possession of the half as they drove 66 yards to score on quarterback Austin Reed’s 16-yard run and dive to the pylon with 3:04 to play in the half. Reed would end the game going 29-of-50 for 336 yards and two touchdowns.
WKU received the kickoff to open the second half and seized the lead when Reed hit Dalvin Smith on a swing route that Smith took 42 yards down the sideline for a 24-17 Hilltopper lead.
USF responded immediately, going for a fourth and less than a yard at the WKU 28 and seeing Brown take the quarterback keeper over the left side and race through a gaping hole all the way for a touchdown.
WKU retook the lead on its next possession when Reed hit K.D. Hutchinson on a 51-yard strike down the sideline for a touchdown and a 31-24 lead.
Trailing by seven, the Bulls drove to the WKU 35 and had a fourth and two. Wright was tripped up short of the first down and WKU took over with 3:20 to play in the third quarter. The USF defense held, forcing another three-and-out and getting the ball back.
Behind a strong rushing attack, the Bulls drove to the WKU 4 with 12 minutes to play in the fourth quarter, but Brown was intercepted in the endzone and WKU took the return out to the 29. The USF defense forced another punt before WKU was able to extend the lead with a 42-yard field goal. The final margin came when Brown was sacked and fumbled at the Bulls 27 and JaQues Evans scooped up the ball and scampered into the endzone.
• 540-465, USF outgained WKU on the day
• 3-0, USF had three turnovers, including one after driving to the WKU 4 and one returned for a touchdown, while WKU did not turn the ball over.
• 374, USF gained 374 yards rushing, the eighth-best total in program history, and had two 100-yard rushers.
• QB Byrum Brown ran 25 times for 160 yards, the fourth-best total by a quarterback in program history. The top three totals are all owned by Quinton Flowers who hold the record with 210.
• RB Nay’Quan Wright ran for a career-best 111 yards on 17 carries.
• QB Byrum Brown’s 84-yard touchdown pass to WR Khafre Brown in the first half marked the sixth-longest pass play in program history.
The Bulls open the 2023 home season with a 7 p.m. kickoff vs. Florida A&M in Raymond James Stadium next Saturday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+.
ABOUT USF FOOTBALL
The USF football program first took the field in 1997 and completed its 26th season in 2022 while completing construction on a new $22 million Indoor Performance Facility. The Bulls have posted 15 winning seasons, earned 16 All-America selections, including 2021 consensus All-American kick returner Brian Battie, and had 32 first-team all-conference selections. USF has had 30 players selected in the NFL Draft and has made 10 bowl game appearances (going 6-4 in those games), posting a program-record six straight appearances from 2005-2010 and most recently making four straight bowl appearances from 2015-18. The Bulls posted back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2016 and 2017, logging a program-record 11-2 mark in 2016 while finishing both seasons ranked in the Top 25. USF spent a program-record 20 straight weeks ranked in the Top 25 during the 2016 and 2017 seasons and reached as high as No. 2 in the national rankings during the 2007 season.
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