NOTEBOOK: Bulls’ offense has big game against ECU

Jah’Quez Evans (14) and Kirk Rygol (17) each saw time under center for USF in the Bulls’ 45-20 victory against East Carolina on Saturday. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

GREENVILLE, N.C. — Behind three quarterbacks, its biggest offensive output of the season and some breakout performances, USF defeated East Carolina 45-20 on Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

Trio of QBs

Entering Saturday’s game, there was a bit of uncertainty at quarterback for USF.

Redshirt freshman Jordan McCloud was clearly hurt last week against Navy, meaning there was a strong chance walk-on sophomore Kirk Rygol would have to start.

Ultimately, both saw action, but so did true freshman Jah’Quez Evans.

Evans, who changed his position from quarterback to wide receiver during fall camp, appeared under center in a sort of wildcat formation seven times in the first half, rushing for a net of 99 yards and completing one pass for 2 yards.

“He came out here and did a great job,” senior running back Jordan Cronkrite said. “He gives us a different dynamic. It’s great to have.”

Evans left the game late in the first half with what coach Charlie Strong described as a “headache,” but not before putting together a performance that drew praise from McCloud.

“He did really well today,” McCloud said. “All week, he was just learning. He was a receiver at first, and then he came back. So it was just a hard transition for him, but he did it really well.”

McCloud was the starting quarterback but left the game with an ankle injury late in the second quarter, though both Strong and McCloud said he was healthy enough to come back in the game if needed.

“I could have went back in, but coach just decided no point,” McCloud said. “We’ve got a hard November coming up, so we just want to keep me healthy.”

Rygol finished the game, going 6-of-12 for 74 yards and a touchdown. Getting Rygol reps this week was key in his ability to hold his own, according to Strong.

“If you put him in at practice and then get enough reps, they can understand and they can execute the offense,” Strong said.

A pair of season bests

The Bulls’ offense posted season highs in rushing (347) and total (525) yards.

USF posted 248 rushing yards in the first half alone, taking a 35-10 lead into the break. It was the first time the Bulls scored at least 35 points in the first half of a game since Oct. 28, 2016, against Navy.

Six different rushers totaled the 347 yards, with three of USF’s six touchdowns coming on the ground.

“We just came out here with an attitude: being the hammer, not the nail,” Cronkrite said. “Obviously we had a few mistakes out there … but just a great job all around.”

Cronkrite’s big day

Cronkrite logged his third 100-plus yard output in four games. 

The senior ran for 129 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries.

After posting just 77 yards through the season’s first four games, Cronkrite has ran for just under seven times that number (511 yards) in the following quarter of the season.

Despite the big night, Cronkrite kept things in perspective.

“I’m just happy that we won,” Cronkrite said. “I’m not really about the 100-yard rushes and all that. I’m just happy that we won.”

St. Felix rises to Strong’s challenge

In his weekly press conference last Monday, Strong said he challenged his receivers to start making big plays.

Sophomore Randall St. Felix took the challenge to heart.

St. Felix caught five passes for 79 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown.

“I actually took it as disrespect,” St. Felix said. “When I feel disrespected, that’s when I step up to the plate and I do what I had to do. I worked hard in practice, and I was making catches like I made in the game in practice.

“You practice how you play, so I showed up today.”