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USF rallies past BYU for Homecoming triumph

The Bulls come back from a 13-point deficit to win 27-23.
USF tight end Mitchell Wilcox (89) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against BYU during the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Oct. 12
Updated Oct. 13

TAMPA ― During brief pauses in action Saturday, USF announced that a pair of donors had pledged another $2.5 million to its proposed football center.

When it resumed, something arguably more priceless unfolded: a Bulls comeback that could alter the trajectory of this once-wayward season.

Behind its resurgent ground game, USF (3-3) rallied from a 13-point hole for a 27-23 homecoming triumph against BYU (2-4) before an announced Raymond James Stadium crowd of 35,375.

The Bulls suddenly have cobbled together a two-game win streak after a horrific start, elevating their bowl aspirations from laughable to conceivable.

“It wasn’t always the prettiest, it wasn’t the cleanest, but we got it done,” said senior tight end Mitch Wilcox, who helped epitomize this unkempt triumph with a touchdown catch on a pass not intended for him.

"I think winning is a habit, and I think we’re getting back into winning habits in many areas.”

USF quarterback Jordan McCloud (12) runs the ball for a first down during the second half. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

Senior Jordan Cronkrite, virtually nonexistent through the season’s first four games, notched his second consecutive 100-yard effort (26 carries, 158 yards, two touchdowns), scoring the go-ahead TD on a 3-yard run with 7:37 to play.

BYU had two more chances inside the red zone, but USF’s defense, in a bend-but-don’t break mode all afternoon, came through both times.

On the game’s next-to-last play, third-and-10 from the USF 12, sophomore linebacker Antonio Grier blitzed and sacked Cougars backup quarterback Baylor Romney (no relation to Mitt), whose final throw was batted by safety Devin Studstill.

The sack was USF’s sixth of the day, most for the program in a single game since 2012.

“I cried," senior defensive end Greg Reaves said. "I just put so much into this, every day. ... It’s just nice to see the result come to fruition.”

But drab ― the kind to which Bulls fans had grown accustomed in September ― preceded the drama.

With quarterback Jordan McCloud still nursing a sore throwing wrist, then getting his shoulder banged up in the first quarter, the Bulls amassed 25 yards on their first four possessions, collecting more fumbles (one) than first downs in that span.

But their fifth possession changed the game’s complexion.

Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Micah Simon (13) is tackled by USF Bulls defensive back Devin Studstill (8) during the first half of the game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Saturday, October 12, 2019. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

It ended with McCloud getting off a wobbly throw as he was nailed from his blind side. Wilcox ran under it and snagged it just as he entered the end zone for a 39-yard touchdown, cutting USF’s deficit to 13-7.

The score capped an eight-play, 86-yard march during an otherwise dominant opening half for the Cougars.

Behind redshirt freshman Jaren Hall, who became the first African-American quarterback to start a game for BYU, the Cougars controlled the ball for 21:37 of the first half. Three of their four opening-half scoring drives stretched at least 11 plays, but USF held them to field goals on all three of those drives.

“Just defensively, we needed that,” Bulls coach Charlie Strong said. "And we gave up some plays, but we didn’t give up touchdowns, and that was critical.”

So was the run game, which compiled 178 of its 243 yards after halftime.

“I had gotten banged up in the second or third drive when I was running up the middle," said McCloud, who finished 7-for-14 for 72 yards and struggled mightily with his accuracy. "I talked to coach, ‘We can pass it, let’s just try to get the running game going to help me out a little bit.’”

Cronkrite’s 1-yard scoring surge up the middle capped a 14-play drive to open the second half that cut the Cougars’ lead to 16-14. Fifty-four of the Bulls’ 68 yards on the drive came on the ground.

USF linebacker Antonio Grier (44) celebrates a defensive stop late in the fourth quarter. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

Hall answered on the ensuing five-play drive with scrambles of 32 and 29 yards, the latter of which gave the Cougars a 23-14 lead. But a BYU fumble on a punt attempt was recovered by Vincent Davis at the Cougars 23.

Four plays later, McCloud faked a toss to tailback Kelley Joiner and trotted 2 yards into the end zone for a TD. After a Cougars missed field goal, USF drove 78 yards on nine run plays, ending with Cronkrite’s game-winner.

The Bulls held on from there, injecting life to a season previously on life support.

“When you’re 1-3, which we were, the season’s not over," Strong said. “Everybody’s acting like they’re gonna jump off a mountain, but the season’s not over. You just keep playing. There’s still a lot of football left.”

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.


  1. USF senior tight end Mitch Wilcox has 97 career receptions and 11 touchdown catches. MIKE CARLSON  |  AP
    The Tarpon Springs High alumnus is a prominent 2020 NFL draft prospect.
  2. USF placekicker Spencer Shrader (32) watches his missed field goal against the Cincinnati Bearcats during the fourth quarter at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    The Bulls have expressed support for the Newsome High alumnus since his four missed field goals Saturday.
  3. USF Bulls guard Elisa Pinzan (4) drive to the basket past Jacksonville Dolphins guard Mariah Batz (13) during the first half at the Yuengling Center in Tampa. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    The contest in Waco highlights yet another daunting non-conference Bulls schedule.
  4. Cincinnati running back Michael Warren II (3) barrels through USF's defense for a first down during the fourth quarter of the Bearcats' 20-17 win Saturday at Raymond James Stadium. The Bulls and Bearcats will continue meeting on a home-and-home basis through at least 2021. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times] OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    For now, USF retains home-and-home matchups with four East Division foes
  5. USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) leaps to avoid UCF defensive back Mike Hughes (19) and during the second half of the Knights' 49-42 triumph in Orlando in 2017. This year's game, also at Orlando's Spectrum Stadium, kicks off at 8 p.m. on Nov. 29. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
    The game hasn’t kicked off in the evening since 2015
  6. USF Bulls place kicker Spencer Shrader (32) misses the field goal to take the lead over the Cincinnati Bearcats during the fourth quarter at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    The Bulls miss four field goals of their own in a 20-17 loss.
  7. USF running back Jordan Cronkrite, center, is tackled by Cincinnati linebacker Joel Dublanko during the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on Saturday night. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Journal: The University of Florida transfer now is among USF’s top 10 rushers of all time.
  8. Connecticut's Evina Westbrook, left, sits with her new teammates, unable to play as a transfer student because the NCAA denied her immediate eligibility. STEPHEN DUNN  |  AP
    Geno Auriemma hints that Evina Westbrook’s situation with the Vols was unhealthy.
  9. USF senior Evelyne Viens, seen here during a match against Florida in August, had a hat trick in Friday's rematch, a 4-2 Bulls triumph in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. [USF Athletics] TRAVIS PENDERGRASS  |  UF_TP
    The senior from Canada sets an AAC single-season goals record in the Bulls’ 4-2 triumph
  10. USF players celebrate with students after their 27-23 victory against BYU at Raymond James Stadium on Oct. 12. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Students now can earn points for each Bulls sporting event they attend.