USF makes statement against another Power Five foe

USF now has won six of its past seven against Power Five opposition. It goes for seven of eight next week in Chicago against Illinois.
USF's Terrence Horne (80) runs the ball for a touchdown during the first half. (OCTAVIO JONES | Times)
USF's Terrence Horne (80) runs the ball for a touchdown during the first half. (OCTAVIO JONES | Times)
Published Sept. 8, 2018|Updated Sept. 8, 2018

TAMPA — The recent unveiling of USF's new academic logo, complete with an archaic font and lime-green hue, did nothing to resolve the school's ongoing identity crisis.

But as a result of what transpired in two blinks of an eye Saturday, the football team has a new folk hero with whom all Bulls fans — emphasize Bulls — can identify.

Dude's name is Horne.

Think of the marketing possibilities. Also, think about this: The Bulls (2-0) own the Power Five.

Freshman Terrence Horne Jr. returned two first-quarter kicks for touchdowns, and had a short scoring reception in the fourth, as USF rallied for a 49-38 victory against Georgia Tech on a wild, warm Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.

"I just think that shows the country that we're here," senior slot receiver Tyre McCants said.

On an afternoon when both defenses struggled to break serve, the Bulls trailed by 10 in the fourth quarter but scored three touchdowns in the final 12:11. The last, a 5-yard run by quarterback Blake Barnett, came with 2:13 to go and set off the celebration among the announced audience of 34,182.

"I just love our resiliency, I love the way we just battled," said coach Charlie Strong, whose program has won six of its past seven against Power Five foes.

"This is a special team. For us to come together and play as well as we played against a really good football team, and a very unique football team — that's what was special about this game today."

Highlighting the ensemble effort was Horne, who won the 100-meter dash for Miramar High in last spring's Class 4A state meet.

Horne (5-foot-8, 177 pounds) nearly broke free on the game's opening kickoff, but was tripped up inside his own 35.

"I was running too fast," he said. "When he hit me, it just hit my whole equilibrium off."

On his second attempt, he began near the goal line's right pylon, found a seam near his 20, and dashed untouched down the right side for a 98-yard touchdown.

On his third, he took the ball at the right hash, found congestion at the 20, then bounced outside to his left for a 97-yard scoring dash. In the process, he became only the 25th player in NCAA history to return two kicks for touchdowns in the same game.

"If he can get to the edge on you, he's gonna take the ball the distance and they're not gonna catch him," Strong said.

At that point, upstaging Horne was virtually impossible. Offsetting him wasn't.

A methodical triple-option attack, efficiently engineered by two Georgia Tech quarterbacks, churned out 419 rushing yards and managed another 183 in the air.

"You can't lose your eyes when you play this offense," Strong said. "And there's got to be communication from the moment the guy motions … but we just didn't do enough of it."

The Jackets (2-0) took a 38-28 lead 45 seconds in the fourth quarter when backup quarterback Tobias Oliver plowed his way into the end zone standing up on fourth and goal from the half-yard line.

From there, Barnett and offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert — who might have dialed up the most diverse game plan of his 14-game tenure at USF — went to work.

Complemented by fleet former Hillsborough High star Duran Bell, who totaled 23 yards on consecutive runs and was the victim of targeting on the third, Barnett led a 76-yard drive ending with his 3-yard scoring strike to Horne.

On the next Yellow Jackets possession, Tampa Catholic alumnus Bentlee Sanders forced a fumble by wingback Qua Searcy inside the Bulls 15 that linebacker Nico Sawtelle recovered. On the ensuing drive, Barnett completed three of four passes and scored from 19 yards on a textbook zone-read play to give USF a 42-38 lead.

Defensive end Kirk Livingstone virtually sealed things with 3:47 to go, when he got a paw on quarterback TaQuon Marshall's right arm as he passed on third-and-20. Sawtelle caught the fluttering ball and returned it to the Tech 18. Five plays later, Barnett scored from 5 yards.

He finished with 293 total yards, including 91 on 16 carries.

"What was really, really awesome for me today was just the team win," Barnett said. "The turnover on defense, the special team plays, the plays on offense. That was so awesome to see our team come out there and come together as a whole and win the game as one."

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.