In the wake of a rescheduled game against UConn due to the threat of Hurricane Irma, the Bulls were unable to practice until Tuesday afternoon.
Playing with just three days of preparation instead of their normal week of practices, USF trounced Illinois, a Big Ten opponent, 47-23 in front of 35,000 at Raymond James Stadium Friday night.
“There was a lot going on with hurricane Irma, we had to put that behind us and play for the whole state of Florida,” running back D’Ernest Johnson, who ran for 101 yards and caught his first touchdown pass of the year Friday night, said.
Contrary to their first two games of the season, the Bulls were able to assert their dominance over their opponent on their first drive, but the same special team woes that’ve haunted the Bulls in the first quarter struck again.
After marching 56-yards down the field on their first drive, USF was haunted by their special teams unit when an attempted field goal from 35-yards out was blocked by the Illini to force a turnover-on-downs.
Later in the first quarter, the Bulls were able to score a touchdown on a 39-yard pass from Quinton Flowers to Dangelo Antoine to cap off a 66-yard drive. However, the Illini blocked another kick. This time, they returned the ball to the opposite end zone to put themselves on the board with 2 points.
In addition to the blocked kicks, penalties were plentiful throughout the game for both teams, with the Bulls finishing with 16 – two short of tying a program record.
“The penalties are on us, we can’t be undisciplined as a football team,” coach Charlie Strong said postgame. “The penalties stopped a lot of drives…Tomorrow, there’s going to be a lot of guys running.”
Following the special teams miscue, senior standout Deadrin Senat was ejected from the game after issuing an illegal hit. This was Senat’s second ejection in three games. Later in the game, Illinois safety Stanley Green was ejected for an identical play.
“I feel bad for him," Strong said. “It’s tough for him to leave that early.” Despite Senat’s absence, USF’s defense was able to hold Illinois to just 67 rushing yards.
Darius Tice scored on a 10-yard touchdown run and Illinois’ Mike Epstein scored the first Illini touchdown on a 45-yard run in the second quarter.
The Bulls took control of the game with 2:18 left in the first half where they marched 75-yards down the field on 9 plays. Flowers hit Antoine for a 32-yard pass before running it into the end zone to put the Bulls up 23-9. At the end of the half, USF had been able to run almost twice as many plays as Illinois and led in total yards with 384 to Illinois’ 140.
In the third quarter, the Bulls scored 21 unanswered points after scoring touchdowns on two consecutive drives while holding Illinois to three consecutive punts. The scores both came from Flowers, who threw to Valdes-Scantling for 17-yards and later to Johnson for 17-yards.
The Bulls continued to control the game throughout the fourth quarter, scoring another touchdown on an athletic catch from Tyre McCants. The Bulls tacked on a field goal with 7:53 remaining to seal the victory.
Both teams were plagued with penalties for the duration of the game. USF committed 16 penalties for 140 yards and Illinois committed 15 for 138 yards. Prior to this game, the Bull’s record for penalties was 18 in a single game.
“I’m very proud of this football team,” Strong said. “We wanted to make this night special. We felt like we had a chance to give back to this city and to the state.”
The Bulls remain undefeated on the season and will begin conference play against Temple, arguably the Bull’s biggest rival outside of UCF, at 7:30 on September 21st.