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OPINION: USF vs. UConn takeaways

Blake Barnett and Mitchell Wilcox sit on the sidelines and discuss USF’s previous offensive drive. ORACLE PHOTO/SAM NEWLON

No. 21 USF (7-0, 3-0) defeated UConn (1-6, 0-4) 38-30 on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium. USF’s 7-0 record matches a program-best, originally set last season. Here are some takeaways from Saturday night’s homecoming game.

Not a good look

It’s hard to defend beating a team that came in with the 129th best defense in FBS by a single score. It’s hard to defend allowing a team that came in with the 91st best offense in FBS to score 30 points.

Coach Charlie Strong said the team didn’t play to its full potential and the Bulls allowed UConn to stay in the game.

Indeed the Bulls did. Even despite the slow start, which saw the score tied 7-7 at halftime, all could have been forgiven if USF had piled on in the second half. Instead, while the Bulls were able to put up 31 points in the second half, UConn scored 23 points of its own.

Prior to Saturday, UConn’s smallest point differential in a game against FBS opponents — which have all resulted in losses — was 30. USF winning by only eight points is a bad look in comparison.

Johnny Ford is this season’s breakout star

USF’s starting running back Jordan Cronkrite had another 100-yard rushing performance Saturday night with 16 carries for 110 yards, although he did lose a fumble in the fourth quarter. Without Elijah Mack, Duran Bell and Trevon Sands, freshman Johnny Ford stole the show.

Ford ran for 164 yards and three touchdowns, with a long of 78 yards and an average of over 23 yards per carry.

“I just thank [running backs] coach [Shaun] King and coach Strong for the opportunity,” Ford said. “I text them that mostly after every game, just ‘Thank you for the opportunity.’ Because, without the opportunity, I probably would be waiting my turn. But now that my turn’s here, I’m taking advantage of it and giving it all I’ve got.”

USF pulled the ol’ switcheroo

All week leading up to this game, there were rumors that USF would be debuting its alternate black jerseys against UConn. Nobody at USF would confirm — nor deny, for that matter — the truth of said rumors. As the week went on, with no announcement made, the hope for seeing the black alternates faded.

The hope seemingly completely vanished when USF came out for pregame warmups wearing its primary green jersey. Then, shortly after 7 p.m., the Bulls ran onto the field wearing all-black.

On one hand, the whole thing was hilarious. Shoot down rumors, make no announcement, wear something completely different for warmups. Then, bam, out of nowhere, here come the much-anticipated black jerseys.

On the other hand, USF missed out on an opportunity to have its fans participate in a blackout by not announcing anything in advance.

Either way, don’t count Strong as a fan of the black jerseys, especially given his team’s lackluster performance in them.

“With the black jerseys, that’s why I always say this, ‘You don’t ever change your uniform,’” Strong said. “When you change your uniform — guys worry more about how they look instead of how they play.”

Oh, well. It was nice seeing the black jerseys while they lasted.

Next week could be ugly

USF hits the road to face Houston on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The game will be televised on ABC and ESPN2. A national audience may very well see Houston defensive end Ed Oliver tear apart the USF offensive line.

But they also may see a USF team rise up to the challenge. The Bulls have been very Jekyll-and-Hyde this season, after all. Just when you’re ready to write them off, Blake Barnett finds Randall St. Felix for an explosive touchdown pass or Jordan Cronkrite runs for 300 yards.

So next week could be ugly. Next week also could be a statement win for a USF team that’s having a pretty weird season, all things considered.