OPINION: USF-BYU takeaways

USF defeated BYU 27-23 at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

And, breathe. It’s over.

USF has won back-to-back games against FBS opponents for the first time since last October.

The Bulls are almost a year removed from their complete and utter collapse, but after a 27-23 win over BYU (2-4) on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium, USF (3-3, 1-1) looks like it’s turned over a new leaf.

Bulls on cloud nine

Soul singer Nina Simone once said, “I’m feeling good.” The Bulls seem to be channeling their inner-Simone after Saturday’s Homecoming win over the Cougars. 

BYU’s final drive at the end of fourth quarter, if gone according to plan, could have crushed USF’s good feelings.

In three plays, BYU gained 47 yards and breached USF territory. A pass interference call on junior defensive back KJ Sails pushed the Cougars to USF’s 12-yard line, setting up BYU for what felt like an almost inevitable game-winning touchdown.

“They tried me on that one,” Sails said about the penalty as he walked off the field.

It all looked set in stone. BYU looked likely to score and win.

But by the effort of graduate transfer Devin Studstill, USF managed to stop the Cougars and keep its four-point lead until the final whistle.

The stadium erupted and the players celebrated like never before this season. What can only be described as pure joy radiated from the team.

Defense dominates statistically

USF’s defensive stop at the end of the gamewas the icing on the cake of a solid performance. The Bulls made a total of 83 tackles — 13 for a combined loss of 48 yards.

The Bulls’ defense recorded six sacks, its most in a game since 2012, according to a tweet by Joey Knight of the Tampa Bay Times.

BYU only converted two times in its four red-zone attempts. Both defensive stops were made in the fourth quarter, and the Cougars only managed six points in the red zone.

Running game makes glorious return 

Senior running back Jordan Cronkrite had seemingly disappeared prior to last week’s game at UConn. Through the first four games of the season, Cronkrite only rushed for 77 yards. 

Against BYU alone, he ran for 158 yards and scored two touchdowns.

The running game was fruitful Saturday, though it mainly stemmed from freshman quarterback Jordan McCloud not being 100 percent.

McCloud was still suffering from a wrist injury he picked up against SMU. He also suffered another knock midway through Saturday’s game, so he told the coaching staff to focus on getting the running game going in order to help him out.

McCloud’s request ultimately paid off, as rushing arguably won the Bulls the game.

Still making mistakes

Despite the  win, USF showed it still has work to do.

The Bulls accumulated 11 penalties, totaling 105 yards.

After USF’s eventual game-winning touchdown, the Bulls decided to go for two to turn what would have been a five-point lead with an extra point into a six-point margin. 

McCloud completed his pass to junior tight end Jacob Mathis in the end zone, however an offensive pass interference penalty was called on sophomore receiver Randall St. Felix.

USF was forced to retry the point after and opted to go for one, given the 15-yard loss. The kick, however, was no good and the extra points were lost entirely.

An entirely avoidable situation kept the lead at less than a touchdown. If USF had not stopped BYU’s drive at the end of the fourth quarter, fingers would have been pointed at the conversion penalty to blame for the loss.

Strong emphasized discipline heading into the road trips against Navy next week and ECU the week after.

Considering penalties have been rampant this season — an average of 81.5 yards have been lost — managing on-field discipline may make or break the season overall.