Following last week’s 14-10 defeat against Georgia Tech, USF senior safety Devin Studstill said that the team was “cooking with gasoline” and was looking for a spark.
The Bulls’ win over South Carolina State on Saturday might have been the spark they needed.
After eight straight defeats and one quarterback change, USF (1-2) finally snapped its program-record losing streak with a 55-16 win over the Bulldogs (2-1) at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday.
Redshirt freshman Jordan McCloud made his first career start in spite of the depth chart and the video board showing senior Blake Barnett as the starter. In fact, McCloud found out he would be starting just two hours before kickoff.
“It was just such a blessing … to perform at such a high level,” McCloud said. “It’s just something I dreamed of as a kid and it came true today.”
McCloud’s time under center didn’t start off according to plan. In his first snap, he tossed an incomplete pass intended for sophomore slot receiver Johnny Ford for a loss of 3 yards.
USF went on to lose 12 yards in its first two drives, including three incomplete passes and a sack.
Both coach Charlie Strong and McCloud said that McCloud was just finding his footing in the opening drives.
The next drive was a stark contrast, however, as the offense gained 64 yards, capped off by a 42-yard touchdown pass to Ford.
“Johnny split the middle and once I slid to the right, I see him and I let it go,” McCloud said.
McCloud’s brother, current Carolina Panthers wide receiver, Ray-Ray McCloud was on the sideline for his first career start, which McCloud said helped him.
“Knowing that I had my whole family here helped me feel relaxed,” McCloud said. “[Ray-Ray] just wanted to get out here and he was excited to watch me play.”
McCloud appeared to fit in well as the game went along, as he threw for 247 yards and three touchdowns in 217 yards, also rushing for 56 yards and two touchdowns.
Senior tight end Mitchell Wilcox was also a highlight of the offense. He caught two touchdown passes, breaking the program record for most career receiving touchdowns by a tight end (8).
Wilcox being on the receiving end of McCloud’s passes has been fruitful ever since McCloud’s 54-yard pass in Week 2 at Georgia Tech. Their performances Saturday highlighted what could come.
“Mitch is one of the best tight ends in the nation,” McCloud said. “His presence, you know, teams got to key in on him,”
Aside from an all-around efficient offense that put up a season-high 378 yards, USF put up a formidable defense as well, setting a program record with eight turnovers in a game. Five of the turnovers came on fumbles, which is also a program record.
“Every time they [South Carolina State] mounted a drive, we were able to get a turnover,” Strong said.
The Bulls were without their leading defensive playmaker for the first half, as senior linebacker Patrick Macon had to sit out due to a targeting penalty called late last week at Georgia Tech. In order to make up for Macon’s absence, sophomore linebacker Andrew Mims started.
Mims led the Bulls with six total tackles, with one for loss. Strong said he was hesitant to bring Mims off the field in the second half.
“Even when [Macon] came back I said, ‘I should have left you in the locker room and let Mims keep playing,’” Strong joked. “So it was good to just stay with Mims and let Mims go in and play this game and finish it up.”
USF has a bye next week, which will give the Bulls time to prepare for the start of conference play when they play SMU (3-0) on Sept. 28.
Ford is fired up and is ready for anything the Mustangs throw at USF in two weeks.
“We just go and fix the things we need to fix,” Ford said. “We come back for conference play and we coming to kill everything.”