The USF football team accomplished a few things Saturday in Annapolis, Maryland, that they had not done in four years.
Specifically, the Bulls won for the second week in a row, and they won at least three games in a season for the first time since 2019, when they finished 4-8. They also ended a 19-game road losing streak.
It was, in many promising ways, another tone-setting victory — USF 44, Navy 30 — one week after defeating Rice 42-29.
“We wanted to play with elite effort and I would say that was how we played today,” first-year coach Alex Golesh said. “We did not play perfect, and man, we put ourselves in a hole early (trailing 14-0 less than six minutes into the game). But what I keep seeing is the great response. These guys are buying into what we’re doing. They are executing the next-play mentality.”
Several times the Bulls (3-2, 2-0 American Athletic Conference) could have blinked following some mistakes and deficits, but they never did.
The most challenging moment arguably came inside the first two minutes when Sean Atkins fumbled away a punt return that gave the ball to Navy at the USF 18-yard line. Four plays later Navy was in the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
Frustrated? Yes. Dismayed? No.
“Whenever the head coach comes over to you and says, ‘Next play, we still love you and we still trust you back there,’ it definitely makes you want to get back out there and make another play,” Atkins said. “Hearing the coach say that makes you believe.”
In the end, Atkins caught four passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns, including an 88-yard touchdown reception that put the Bulls ahead 21-14 with 8:20 left in the second quarter.
After that, several other Bulls stepped up following adversity.
With 4:03 left in the second quarter, and still leading 21-14, Bulls quarterback Byrum Brown was strip-sacked and the Midshipmen recovered at the USF 22-yard line.
Five plays later Navy scored its third touchdown on a short run and was attempting an extra point when USF came across a rare occurrence.
The extra-point snap sailed past the holder and Jhalyn Shuler ran almost 90 yards for two points. Instead of the score being tied at 21, USF led 23-20.
Navy came back to tie it again at 23 on a 44-yard field goal with 10:34 left in the third, but after that the Bulls filled up most of the highlight reel.
There was Brown’s 15-yard, pinpoint touchdown pass to Michael Brown-Stephens to put the Bulls up 30-23 with 4:22 left in the third.
A few minutes later there was Tramel Logan’s 70-yard scoop-and-score on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 37-23 Bulls.
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Before Logan’s big play, Navy (1-3, 0-2) was rushing on a fourth and short when the ball popped loose.
“I’ve been itching to get in the end zone since I was in high school; you can ask the players how I’ve been talking about it,” Logan said. “As I was running for the touchdown I had a bunch of celebrations I could do running through my head, but then I was too busy looking back to see if somebody was coming up. … It turned out to be the smoothest and easiest scoop-and-score possible.”
Not long after that, the Bulls — largely behind the direction of Brown, who celebrated his 19th birthday on Friday — engineered a nine-play, 74-yard drive capped by Michel Dukes’ 11-yard touchdown rush.
With 7:45 remaining, USF led 44-23.
Ultimately one of the most encouraging players continues to be Brown — who last week was named the AAC offensive player of the week with 517 total yards in the Rice victory — and who on Saturday completed 26 of his 34 pass attempts for 338 yards and three touchdowns.
“Every week Byrum gets better and better,” Golesh said. “This offense, as fast as it moves, he has to prepare like crazy, and his process has been really special.
“He’s so coachable. I don’t know, man, he’s way beyond his years. He’s tough and smart and gritty and he has everybody’s respect. I mean, he just turned 19 yesterday and he continues to impress me and he continues to impress his teammates.”
One point of concern, Golesh noted, was the four sacks Navy collected. USF came into Saturday ranked No. 128 (out of 130 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision), allowing 4.75 sacks a game.
As for penalties, USF — which in the previous four games had been flagged 39 times for 343 yards to also rank 128th in the nation — had only one penalty against Navy for 12 yards.
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