USF Holds On To Defeat UConn

Ken Cross

October 20, 2018 at 9:46 pm.

Oct 20, 2018; Tampa, FL, USA; South Florida Bulls running back Johnny Ford (20) runs for a touchdown as Connecticut Huskies linebacker Eddie Hahn (6) defends during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Photo Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 20, 2018; Tampa, FL, USA; South Florida Bulls running back Johnny Ford (20) runs for a touchdown as Connecticut Huskies linebacker Eddie Hahn (6) defends during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Photo Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

TAMPA, Fla. – Saturday night’s 38-30 win for the South Florida Bulls over struggling UConn was a shocker all right. No one could have predicted that the Bulls could have hit their average of 487 total yards in the third quarter, yet have so much trouble putting the game away against one of the worst defenses in the FBS era.

Running back Johnny Ford rushed seven times for 164 yards and three touchdowns as the Bulls ran up 611 total yards and scored on four of their last five drives to secure what was anything but an easy win against struggling Connecticut.

“Johnny was the Player of the Year in Dade County,” said USF Coach Charlie Strong, as his team went to 7-0. “He had opportunities to go a lot of places. He is not going to run away from a lot of people and he is a little guy who can hide behind the lineman and when he gets into the secondary, he can make plays.”

Ford and Jordan Cronkrite powered a ground game that pounded out 346 yards on 37 carries and was eventually the difference in a game that saw the Bulls struggle on both sides of the ball for most of three quarters before securing the win in the fourth.

Quarterback Blake Barnett graded out well after interceptions ended the first two drives of the game. He finished 20 of 28 for 265 yards, while rushing 10 times for 78 yards and a 20-yard touchdown run that gave USF a 24-14 lead late in the third period.

Ford, a freshman from Miami High School in Miami, Fla., scored on two 15-yard touchdown runs and a 43-yarder late in the game that salted the contest away at 38-23 with 4:46 remaining. He had a 78-yarder that set up a 30-yard field goal early in the third quarter.

“We allowed this team to stay in the game and on the defensive side, we did not control the line of scrimmage,” said Strong. “We can play better than that. Offensively, Johnny Ford rushed the ball and we ran right at 300 yards. We had long drives, but we could not sustain them and score touchdowns.”

Offensive woes: It was a night where the Bulls’ offense kept us in suspense for three quarters with the inability to cash in on big plays, as well as failing to cash in on their first two drives. They drove into UConn territory, but quarterback Blake Barnett threw interceptions to end those drives which gave the Huskies confidence.

Connecticut came in giving up a whopping 658 yards per game and 53.7 points per game – both 129th in the BCS – so it seemed like an easy night at the RayJay ball yard. Add to that the emergence of feature back Jordan Cronkrite, who is second in the AAC averaging 151.4 yards per game.

Barnett started the night struggling to find rhythm and consistency. He couldn’t find anything deep against a Huskies secondary that had been torched about as much as its run-front had been bludgeoned in a 1-5 campaign through its first six games.

Thinking from a psychological standpoint, this could have been a game where the home-standing Bulls had UConn outmanned so thoroughly – and Las Vegas agreed as they were a 33-point favorite – that they didn’t focus enough to flex their muscles and have the struggling Huskies blown out by the end of the first quarter.

Barnett couldn’t get anything going early as he hit short drag routes and quick screens to Tyree McCants and Mitch Wilcox as he was 15 of 19 passing for only 96 yards at the end of the first half. UConn linebacker Ian Swenson and defensive back Omar Fortt were the willing recipients of those errant tosses on the first two drives which stopped in UConn territory in the game’s first six minutes.

Quick strike: Tied 7-7 at halftime, the 75-yard catch-and-run on a screen pass from Barnett to Randall St. Felix on the first play of the second half exemplified what the Bulls thought they should have been able to do throughout the first half. He gave a short hitch and ran away from the oncoming pursuit as USF finally was able to turn a play in space into a foot race.

It looked like the Bulls were going to be able to finally put UConn away early in the third quarter when Barnett hit St. Felix for a 44-yard play to the UConn 24. The offense once again bogged down and kicker Coby Weiss was wide right on a 37-yard field goal attempt with 10:25 left in the third period.

On the next drive, it was more frustration after Ford hit the hole off the left side midway through for a 78-yard run that set USF up on the Connecticut 12. Once again South Florida would hit the big play and then not be able to execute cleanly, but this time, Weiss made good on his field goal as USF went up two scores at 17-7 midway through the third period.

What matters is, it was a win and it kept USF undefeated with three of its next four games on the road against Houston, Cincinnati and Temple. The Cougars are up first next Saturday in Houston.

“Big tests like this next week against Houston and we play like that, we will get embarrassed,” said Strong. “(D’Eriq) King will run for 500 yards.”

The scenario is similar to last season where the Cougars came into Tampa and handed USF its first loss.

“We had 23 seniors who were all critical players,” said Strong. “We won’t talk about that and we have to get better or it will be another script written the same way.”

Slamming the Door:  Defensive backs Nick Roberts and Mekhi LaPointe had another pair of stellar games. LaPointe led USF in tackles with 11, while Roberts had 10 and a key interception.

Roberts picked off UConn quarterback David Pindell on the first play of the fourth quarter and returned it 61 yards to the Huskies 15.

Then, Ford’s third touchdown of the night gave the Bulls the separation they needed as they led 31-14 with 14:36 to play.

“Those are two guys who we have put in line-up and have played well,” said Strong. “You watch them run down field in the kicking game and they make plays. They line up, make plays, tackle people and find the football.”