USF upset Georgia Tech 49-38 in front of an announced crowd of 34,182 fans at Raymond James Stadium.
Going in as a three-point underdog, coach Charlie Strong and the Bulls (2-0) knew they’d have to be careful of Georgia Tech’s (1-1) running game.
“I told them this morning in the pregame speech that this game is going to be about mental toughness,” Strong said. “It’s going to be assignment football on defense.”
It was a busy first quarter inside Ray Jay. For just the 20th time in FBS history, a player returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.
Saturday, it was USF freshman Terrence Horne Jr.
He returned a pair of kickoffs 98 and 97 yards, respectively on back-to-back kicks from Georgia Tech.
“If (Horne) can get to the edge on you, he’s going to take the ball the distance,” Strong said. “They’re not going to catch him.”
Horne’s first return came after a failed first drive by the Bulls.
Quarterback Blake Barnett threw an interception on the opening drive which set up a 35-yard field goal by Georgia Tech’s Brenton King.
“It was just a mental error,” quarterback Blake Barnett said. “There was a guy open and I knew he was open. I just tried to force the ball and it was a mental mistake and I didn’t want to let that set the offense and myself back so it was something to respond from.”
After a scoreless second quarter for Georgia Tech, the Bulls were up 21-17 thanks to Darnell Solomon’s 18-yard catch and completed extra point from Colby Weiss.
USF was down by 10 points just 45 seconds into the fourth quarter, but Barnett and his offense knew they could pull through.
“You could see it in their eyes,” Barnett said. “They were just ready and anxious. It wasn’t a ‘we’re in desperation mode’ it was just ready. You could tell from the O-line and receivers and running backs and tight ends, you know we were ready and we knew what we had to do and we did it.”
Even though the Bulls won, the defense allowed 698 total yards. Georgia Tech’s rushing attack proved to be problematic — the Yellow Jackets ran for 419 yards. USF needed a fourth-quarter comeback to win.
USF rallied to finish the game. Horne found the endzone again because of a three-yard pass from Barnett.
On the next possession, Georgia Tech fumbled on third down, which USF was unable to stop. The fumble was recovered by Nico Sawtelle on the USF 16-yard line.
Barnett completed three of four passes on the ensuing drive and rushed for 19, bringing the Bulls up 42-38.
With 2:13 left in the game, Barnett rushed to the endzone again for five yards, making the score 49-38. His rushing touchdown sealed the Bulls’ second win of the season.
“That was so awesome to see our team come out there and come together as a whole and win the game as one,” Barnett said. “It’s awesome. This is something that kids like myself dream about.”