USF stays undefeated despite another slow start

Darnell Salomon celebrates with teammates after a 66-yard touchdown reception to give the Bulls an early lead. ORACLE PHOTO/BAILY EASTERMAN

The Bulls beat the ECU Pirates 20-13 Saturday night. They scored a late touchdown to take the lead, and then an interception to seal the deal.

ECU (1-2) took advantage on the first drive, going 82 yards in nine plays to score and take a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter.  

"Defensively what hurt us early is that they would win on first down,” coach Charlie Strong said. "Early in the game we were off, we just gave them too much. We knew there receivers are physical and they could run."

USF (4-0) answered immediately on their next drive with a 68-yard drive. Capping off the drive with a two yard run was junior quarterback Blake Barnett.

USF was able to continue its success on the next drive, scoring on a big 66-yard touchdown pass to Darnell Salomon, which was Salomon’s fourth touchdown in as many games.

"He got open, we faked the jailbreak. He slipped to the outside and was running wide open,” said Strong. "His plays come at the right time when we really need him. It's like every time he touches the ball he gets a touchdown."

However, the Bulls were unable to take advantage of any of their opportunities going forward. They went into  halftime 2-of-6 on third-down conversions.

The offensive line struggled throughout the game, allowing 5 sacks and 6 tackles for loss. Causing Barnett to be pressured and keeping the Bulls run game in check for a lot of the game.

"It wasn't just the offensive line, they played a role in it but so did I and so did the running backs and receivers,” Barnett said. “We all just have to play complete games."

Although USF faced obstacles, the team was able to rally in the 4th quarter. Running back Jordan Cronkrite scored an 80-yard touchdown run up the middle.

Cronkrite’s run gave the Bulls a much-needed boost in all aspects of the game.

"It was big and it was crucial, we needed that,” cornerback Mike Hampton said. “It set the tone for the defense."

The Bulls’ defense was already being pushed to its limits, being on the field for over 90 snaps. But freshman defensive back Nick Roberts stepped up big and made a game-sealing interception with two minutes left in the game.

"Nick did a really good job tonight. I go back to his preseason camp, he’s one of those guys we felt had the talent and everything it would take to play the position,” Strong said. "Last week he made some plays, and today to go up and make the interception to get the game for us was big."

USF will enter next week with a conference win, but will look to improve as the team moves forward.

"We continue to grow, each and every week you have to have enough confidence that you feel like you aren't going to lose,” Strong said. "We just have to keep battling through whatever we have to go through. Guys have to be strong enough to think at some point someone has to make a play.”