Far From Pretty, USF Finds A Way To Defeat ECU

In what was truly a plodding contest, Jordan Cronkrite's 80-yard TD run was the difference as the Bulls improve to 4-0.

Bulls start conference slate with a win

TAMPA — Once again it was a case of bend, but don’t break for the USF defense.

It was a good a thing that’s how it played out in Saturday night’s 20-13 win over East Carolina at Raymond James Stadium because the offense provided few favors during what was truly a plodding affair.

Hats off to the defense, though, which despite being on the field for 96 snaps did not allow a touchdown after the game’s opening drive and blanked the opposition during a decisive fourth quarter for the second straight week.

In so doing USF (4-0/1-0 American) opened conference play on a winning a note.

“Our goal every game is to have a shutout in the fourth quarter,” said safety Nick Roberts, whose first-career interception of ECU quarterback Reid Herring with two minutes remaining sealed the victory. “Every time the fourth quarter comes around I tell my guys that it’s time to shut them out. That’s our goal coming into every game.”

The goal on offense the past couple of weeks was to play more efficient. That did not happen, not even close Saturday night. However, an 80-yard touchdown run by Jordan Cronkrite woke up what had become a sleepy Raymond James Stadium and gave the Bulls a 20-13 lead with 10:13 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Prior to that run the Bulls, who won their 150th game, had all of 34 yards in the second half.

“The offensive line did a great job making a nice seam for me,” said Cronkrite, who had 129 yards on 15 carries. “I had the easy job. All I had to do was run straight.”

Cronkrite’s run and a 66-yard touchdown pass from Blake Barnett to Darnell Salomon that gave the Bulls a 13-7 lead early in the second quarter represented nearly half of the team’s 296 yards on the evening.

“We didn’t play physical at the point of attack,” said coach Charlie Strong, lamenting the offense’s struggles. “We gave up too many sacks and too many lost-yardage plays. Cronkrite was able to hit the long one, but up until that point we were getting about three or four yards per carry.”

For the record, the Bulls yielded six sacks in an awfully disjointed performance.

“It’s pretty frustrating,” said Barnett, who was 12-of-20 for 181 yards and a TD. “We have to come out and be better. I said that last week and the week before. We have a lot of things to work on. We left a lot of stuff on the field and we can’t be happy with our performance tonight.”

After yielding a nine-play, 82-yard drive to open the game, the defense limited the Pirates to a pair of field goals. The first capped a 16-play drive and brought ECU to within 13-10 as the first half ended. The second concluded a nine-play drive and knotted the score at 13-13 with 9:58 to play in the third quarter.

While the Bulls had trouble getting off the field, they did not allow the big play and at the end they came out on top. Now it’s time to lick some wounds heading into a bye week.

“It’s good to get our first conference win,” said Strong. “This open (week) comes at the right time for us and it’s a chance to rest of some guys who are beat up right now.”

Bulls Bits
In an effort to get out of town ahead of Hurricane Florence, the Pirates arrived in Orlando last Wednesday, a day after having their game at Virginia Tech cancelled. The Pirates practiced at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex…Injuries were piling up before the game began. Terrence Horne, who returned two kicks for touchdowns against Georgia Tech, was lost for the season after tearing an ACL in practice Wednesday. Running Duran Bell (ankle) remained out and fellow RBs Trevon Sands and Elijah Mack sat out. Strong said they were bruised…..RB Johnny Ford’s first career reception went for 39 yards and set up the Bulls’ first touchdown….Trent Schneider’s 72-yard punt in the second quarter tied a USF record…..ECU’s 96 plays were the most ever run against the Bulls.

Tom Layberger has been a sports writer and editor since 1990. Among the companies he has worked for are Beckett Publishing, The Topps Company and Comcast. In addition to being a contributing writer for sportstalkflorida.com, Tom also writes for forbes.com and Tampa Bay Business & Wealth Magazine. A native of the Philadelphia suburbs and a University of South Florida grad, Tom is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation. He resides in Tampa.