Advertisement
  1. Sports
  2. /
  3. USF Bulls

USF delivers best effort of season, tramples UConn

The Bulls momentarily cease talk of Charlie Strong’s job status with a 48-22 rout.
USF quarterback Jordan McCloud (12) passes under pressure from Connecticut defensive lineman Kevon Jones (48) during the first half in East Hartford, Conn. [MICHAEL DWYER | AP]
Published Oct. 5
Updated Oct. 5

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. ― On a bright New England afternoon bereft of humidity, USF’s Charlie Strong experienced his own temporary reprieve from the heat.

After a month of mediocrity, the Bulls (2-3, 1-1) snapped a nine-game losing streak against Division I-A opposition with a mostly glistening 48-22 victory against American Athletic Conference lame duck Connecticut (1-4, 0-2) before an announced Pratt & Whitney Stadium audience of 18,038.

As a result, the Bulls enter Homecoming week, and a critical non-conference matchup against BYU, with momentum instead of myriad questions about their coach’s future.

“It just takes a win to really get you going,” said Strong, whose status had become the source of national speculation during a I-A skid that began after a home win against this same Huskies program last Oct. 20.

“I was so happy for our team ... because I’ve been telling them each and every week, ‘We’re better than what we’re showing right now, and we have to get much better, and we have to go out and play.’”

Playing without leading receiver Johnny Ford (suspension) and one-time starting quarterback Blake Barnett (ankle), the Bulls brandished an offensive crispness (season-best 503 yards) barely seen in September, albeit against the AAC’s 11th-ranked defense.

“It was a joy,” outside linebacker Antonio “Yo-Yo” Grier said. “Instead of going punt team, punt team, punt team, it was touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, or field goal.”

RELATED: Joey Knight’s takeaways from USF-Connecticut

USF running back Trevon Sands (28) celebrates his touchdown during the first half. [MICHAEL DWYER | AP]

Establishing a ground game mostly incognito through the first month, USF amassed 313 rushing yards. It also scored touchdowns on four consecutive first-half possessions, four more than it totaled in the first half against three previous I-A opponents this season.

“I think what happened in the past games, we gave up on (the run) too easy," said Strong, whose team entered the weekend ranked last in the AAC in rushing offense (97.8 ypg).

"When you’re running the football you have to be patient. And it may be a 2-yarder, it may be a 3-yarder, then you’re gonna bust one. But you have to have confidence in the offensive line and let them guys just come off the ball, which they did today and they moved people.”

Three of those four first-half TDs featured redshirt freshman quarterback Jordan McCloud in some form, with his most critical sequence occurring in the first half’s waning moments.

After a quick UConn touchdown drive cut the Huskies’ deficit to 20-14 with 2:45 to play in the half, McCloud took a second-and-15 snap near midfield and ― eluding a blitzer up the middle ― scrambled for a 21-yard gain.

The very next play, UConn blitzed up the middle again, and McCloud again scrambled away, this time for a 26-yard TD.

“That was big,” Strong said.

Pulled in the first half of last weekend’s 48-21 home loss to SMU, McCloud finished with 219 total yards and four total TDs. He completed 11 of 21 passes for 157 yards and three TDs, but two ill-advised throws into coverage were picked.

MORE COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Florida Gators quarterback Kyle Trask hurt against Auburn

Meantime, senior Jordan Cronkrite finally got untracked, running for a season-best 140 yards on 19 carries. Walk-on slot receiver Bryce Miller, starting in Ford’s place, had a pair of scoring receptions.

USF wide receiver Randall St. Felix (5) celebrates after defeating Connecticut. [MICHAEL DWYER | AP]

“Shout out to the offensive line, they did a tremendous job," Cronkrite said. "They did a great job moving people. We weren’t doing that in previous games, but today it showed.”

Defensively, some chronic issues continued to surface. UConn quarterback Mike Beaudry exploited Bulls blitzes with short screens for big gains, and tailback Kevin Mensah (21 carries, 70 yards, two TDs) gashed USF up the middle on occasion.

But the Bulls stood mostly firm on third down ― where the Huskies went 2-for-13 ― and held UConn scoreless on a first-and-goal situation inside the USF 20 in the second half. Linebacker Dwayne Boyles had three of the Bulls’ 10 tackles for loss.

Even the special teams sparkled, with long-range place-kicker Spencer Shrader ― a Newsome High alumnus ― scurrying for a 22-yard TD on a fourth-quarter fake.

“We had not played up to our ability up to this point," Strong said. "We played four games, we were sitting there at 1-3, but I knew we were a much better team than what we were showing.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston talks to reporters after an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. The Saints won 31-24. (AP Photo/Butch Dill) BUTCH DILL  |  AP
    Sports Day Tampa Bay: What’s next for the Bucs, Astros-National World Series preview, the Lightning’s short-circuit start
  2. UCF running back Bentavious Thompson, right, runs for a 32-yard touchdown as he gets a block from offensive lineman Edward Collins (70) against East Carolina defensive lineman Chance Purvis, center, during the first half in Orlando. JOHN RAOUX  |  AP
    The Knights lose focus a bit in the third quarter, allowing 17 unanswered points.
  3. USF quarterback Jordan McCloud, who is definitely not 100 percent, runs with the ball as Navy safety Kevin Brennan (10) tries to stop him during the first half Saturday in Annapolis. Navy won 35-3. JULIO CORTEZ  |  AP
    Journal: The junior walk-on shows some promising flashes in his fourth-quarter cameo at Navy.
  4. Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry (10) scores on a touchdown run as USF defensive back KJ Sails, left, and defensive back Mike Hampton are unable to stop him during the first half. JULIO CORTEZ  |  Associated Press
    The offensively hamstrung Bulls can muster no passing game in a 35-3 loss.
  5. Judy Genshaft reveals USF's new academic logo during the annual fall address at the Marshall Student Center on Sept. 5, 2018, in Tampa. Times
    The Tigers began rolling out new logo but stalled after public backlash. Sound familiar?
  6. Tampa Bay Lightning center Alex Killorn (17) and right wing Luke Witkowski (28) celebrate with goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) after the Lightning defeated the Boston Bruins 4-3 in a shootout in an NHL hockey game Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) ELISE AMENDOLA  |  AP
    Sports Day Tampa Bay: There was bad news Thursday in the Tampa Bay penalty box, for USF’s Blake Barnett, for the Yankees and the NFL’s reigning MVP.
  7. BYU linebacker Max Tooley (31) tackles USF running back Jordan Cronkrite (2) during the second half of last week's game at Raymond James Stadium. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Game-day guide: And Will Muschamp’s South Carolina tenure looks almost exactly like his time with the Florida Gators.
  8. USF defensive back KJ Sails (9) breaks up a pass intended for South Carolina State wide receiver Will Vereen during a Sept. 14 game at Raymond James Stadium. CHRIS O'MEARA  |  Associated Press
    Life, and death, compelled the East Bay High alumnus to transfer from North Carolina
  9. USF quarterback Blake Barnett (11) tackled by SMU linebacker JC Rispress (32) while throwing during the fourth quarter at Raymond James Stadium on Sept. 28. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    The graduate transfer quarterback injured his ankle against SMU.
  10. Florida wide receiver Van Jefferson (12) celebrates his touchdown reception with wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland (89) and tight end Kyle Pitts (84) in the first half of an NCAA college football game against LSU in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) GERALD HERBERT  |  AP
    Sports Day Tampa Bay: Times college football writer Matt Baker discusses Florida-South Carolina, USF-Navy, FSU-Wake Forest and the conference already out of the College Football Playoff picture.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement