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OPINION: USF-East Carolina takeaways

USF’s victory against East Carolina on Saturday was a big one. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

GREENVILLE, N.C. — If someone were to look at USF’s 45-20 win over East Carolina on Saturday and think, “Hey, that’s a pretty good win,” they’d be exactly right.

It was a good win. 

In fact, it was arguably the biggest win against an FBS opponent in a very long time. 

Take note of where USF was last week in its 35-3 loss to Navy. When comparing the two games, the Bulls look like a completely different team. 

A lack of consistency has been the overarching theme of the Bulls’ season. Keeping any momentum has been difficult. 

But after such a resounding win on Saturday and a bye week approaching, keeping momentum is of the utmost importance.

Running game takes all the gold doubloons

There’s no putting it lightly, the Bulls plowed through the Pirates mainly due to USF’s running game. Senior running back Jordan Cronkrite put up 129 yards and two touchdowns.

Keep in mind, Cronkrite’s performance made up 37 percent of USF’s total rush offense, which means there was much more than just his contribution to the Bulls’ 347 ground yards.

The offense overall put up its best performance of the season with 525 yards. Based on the impact of the running game on that total yardage, it’s something worth getting excited about.

It’s also exciting to think of the future this run-heavy offense can bring.

Quarterbacks Jordan McCloud and Jah’Quez Evans ran for a combined 148 yards, with the redshirt freshman McCloud averaging over 12 yards a run and the true freshman Evans averaging 16.5.

After running for 99 yards in six attempts and scoring his first career touchdown, it seems like Evans’ potential at the wildcat position has been unlocked. It’s just a matter of time now.

Whether it be the remainder of the season or beyond, the future looks promising.

Defense comes back from the brig 

After hiding underground last week at Navy, USF’s defense is back. And, honestly, it was just as good as it’s been when at its best.

Bentlee Sanders, Nick Roberts and Devin Studstill all made nine tackles, the most of any defensive player on the field.

The Bulls limited the Pirates to 3-of-6 on red-zone attempts, with only one ending in a touchdown very late in the fourth quarter. 

This also included a defensive stop that led to a turnover on downs in the third quarter.

ECU made it to USF’s 1-yard line before a level-headed defense made three rushing stops and forced an incomplete pass on fourth down.

A feat like that takes skill and endless training, but in the end, it boils down to the mental fortitude of the defense.

But the question remains: can USF’s defense consistently perform well in the following weeks?

Penalties rear their ugly heads again

Well, if there’s one thing USF can consistently do it’s tally up penalties.

The Bulls have lost an average of 84.75 yards per game this season.

Against the Pirates, the Bulls totaled 13 penalties for 124 yards. 

It’s not a big deal against a team like ECU, which is now 0-4 in AAC play, but against the gauntlet of teams remaining on USF’s schedule — Temple, Memphis, Cincinnati and UCF — that will probably result in a loss.

Coach Charlie Strong even said as much after the game.

“There’s no reason for it,” Strong said. “We’ve got to get it corrected, because when you play a good team, you lose that game.”

Bowl eligibility hasn’t walked the plank yet

Perhaps most importantly, the Bulls’ win keeps the hope of bowl eligibility alive, at least for another week.

USF needs to effectively steal two of its final four games to qualify for its fifth straight bowl.

Fortunately, three of those games come at home, and the fourth is only a short trip up the road to UCF.

It’s a less than ideal circumstance to be in, but it’s completely reasonable to think the Bulls can pull off an upset in one — if not more — of the home games then play inspired football on Black Friday against their rivals.

A December game is still very much possible, and that’s the most important takeaway from USF’s blowout win on the Inner Banks of North Carolina.