The Blake Barnett era kicked off on Saturday night and is off to a great start.
USF beat Elon 34-14 in front of an announced crowd of 31,217 at Raymond James Stadium. Barnett stole the show, throwing for 305 yards and three touchdowns, rushing for another before being pulled late in the third quarter with the Bulls up comfortably.
“To watch him come out tonight and play well – it’s good for his confidence,” coach Charlie Strong said. “And it’s good for the whole team, because now the whole team, now they see their quarterback. He’s not (Quinton Flowers), but he can make the throws for us and get us in the right place.”
Barnett’s journey started in Corona, California, then took him to Alabama and Arizona State before arriving at USF in May. His late arrival meant Barnett only had since early August, when fall camp began, to practice USF’s offense.
“I think this is probably my 22nd day in pads running this offense,” Barnett said. “So (I’m) still just trying to perfect my craft every day and being able to get better and improve with these guys.
“I thought I played well. There’s a lot of things that I, myself, left on the field. Just keying in and getting better and learning from this and trying to improve.”
Redshirt freshman Randall St. Felix ended the night as USF’s leading receiver with seven receptions for 143 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown reception on the first USF drive of the game and another one that went for a game-high 52 yards.
“All it was (was) a simple streak-route,” St. Felix said about his touchdown reception. “The corner – I guess he was a little undecided – so I just ran by him.”
The Bulls went three-and-out on their next drive, but then came away with points on four of their next five possessions.
In the second quarter, Jake Vivonetto kicked a 33-yard field goal, followed by 16 and 14-yard touchdown passes from Barnett to Tyre McCants and Mitchell Wilcox, respectively. On the first drive of the third quarter, Barnett capped off an 86-yard drive with a two-yard rushing touchdown to give USF its largest lead of the night at 31-0.
Barnett played one more drive, which ended in a punt, before being pulled in favor of a tag-team combination of Brett Kean and Chris Oladokun. The two quarterbacks alternated drives for the remainder of the game, with each playing two.
Despite all three quarterbacks getting in the game against Elon, Strong said he does not know who should be QB2 on the depth chart.
“I just didn’t see enough of them,” Strong said. “It’s hard to say ‘These guys are like this or that.’ They just didn’t play enough, because you’re alternating them.
“I don’t think that we meant for it to be like that. I think that – here we are (with) a lot of time, let’s play them both. One take a series, then the other one take the next series. It wasn’t like ‘Hey, just back-and-forth.’”
Elon found the end zone on its last possession of the third quarter and first possession of the fourth quarter to give the Phoenix their only points of the game. Vivonetto added a 41-yard field goal with under six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter to round out the scoring for the night.
Despite the almost three-score win, the Bulls knew it probably could have been a much wider margin of victory.
“I feel that we definitely could have put up a lot more points than that,” Wilcox said. “But, first game, a good warm-up game for us. We’ll be running on all-cylinders soon.”
Up next for USF is its first ever meeting with Power Five opponent Georgia Tech on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium. The game kicks off at noon and will be broadcast nationally on ABC and ESPN2.
“Next week is going to be a big-time challenge for us,” Strong said. “It’s going to be a totally different team and we know … everything’s going to be expected of us next week.”