TAMPA — Death. Taxes. A USF-Connecticut football game evolving — at times — into a sloppy, defensive struggle.
But for the fifth straight season, that was more than enough for USF, which pulled away late in a 42-27 triumph on a damp Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium.
The Bulls (6-1, 2-0 AAC), matching their best-ever start and wrapping up bowl eligibility at the second-earliest date in program history, finished with a season-best five sacks — two shy of the program record — and nine tackles for loss.
Junior MLB Auggie Sanchez, a former Northeast High standout, harassed UConn QB Bryant Shirreffs all evening, bringing him down a career-high three times. Sophomore FS Jaymon Thomas and Hillsborough alumnus Nigel Harris added one sack apiece.
A memorable first
Freshman WR Darnell Salomon was one of Willie Taggart's most coveted prospects in USF's 2016 recruiting class. In preseason practice, the Bulls coach even compared the consensus four-star recruit out of Miami Central High to Tarzan for his build (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) at such a young age.
After making a couple of early-season cameos for the Bulls while dealing with the lingering effects of a preseason hamstring issue, Salomon earned his first collegiate reception on a 6-yard pass from Quinton Flowers in the fourth quarter — and it was a productive one at that.
One play later, Flowers found N.C. State transfer Marquez Valdes-Scantling wide open in the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown to effectively put the game out of reach.
Better late than never
It took seven games, but Bobby Puyol's 26-yard field goal to cap UConn's opening drive gave the Huskies their first points in a first quarter this season.
USF's defense got lucky, though, after UConn churned 66 yards downfield in 6 minutes, 56 seconds. Thanks to a sack of Shirreffs for a loss of 6 yards by Hillsborough High alumnus Nigel Harris and a couple more stops, the Huskies were kept out of the end zone and were forced to settle for three.
Just hold on
For the second consecutive game, junior RB Marlon Mack fumbled away an opportunity for USF to score in the red zone. After taking a pass from Flowers 37 yards to the 10-yard line, the program's all-time leading rusher coughed up the ball on the very next play and UConn recovered.
Mack had a similar situation in USF's homecoming win over East Carolina the week before, fumbling one play after a 65-yard gain.
Mack later redeemed himself, however, scampering for a 34-yard touchdown in the waning minutes of the game to surpass 3,000 career yards.