One week after a near-upset of then-ranked No. 10 Alabama, USF carved up the Rice defense in a historic performance en route to a 42-29 victory.
This win marked the Bulls’ (2-2, 1-0 AAC) first victory over an FBS opponent in nearly two seasons and their first ever victory against the Owls (2-2, 0-1 AAC) in their conference debut.
After a slow start and a one-point deficit at halftime, the Bulls offense began to pull away in the second half, racking up 597 yards of total offense. Redshirt freshman quarterback Byrum Brown completed 22 of his 29 pass attempts for 435 yards and three total touchdowns.
Passing game finally breaks through in record showcase
Earlier in the week, USF junior wide receiver Sean Atkins said the Bulls offense was on the verge of breakthrough.
That prophecy was fulfilled against Rice. USF went on an offensive tear, racking up its most points in a victory since a 55-16 win over South Carolina State in 2019.
Brown’s 435 passing yards nearly matches the 450 yards he posted over the first three games, posing a stark contrast to the Bulls’ passing game’s struggles early in the season.
His 517 all-purpose yards against Rice ranks second all time in program history, almost toppling Quinton Flowers’ 605 yard record set against UCF in 2017.
For the first time this season, USF was able to consistently move the ball vertically, completing six passes over 40 yards. Brown credited his receivers for getting open and being able to create big plays.
“Naeim and the other receivers did a great job of attacking, of being decisive and making good decisions,” Brown said. “I just let them go make plays.”
Wide receiver Naeim Simmons set a USF record for most receiving yards with 272, beating Tyre McCants’ previous record of 227 yards set in 2017. It also marks the second-most single game yards in conference history.
Simmons attributed his breakout performance to his preparation in practice leading up to the game, and all throughout the offseason.
“Getting the first deep ball really showed me that my process was all coming together, getting the details that I wasn’t perfecting in the first two or three weeks,” Simmons said.
A two-sided defensive game
It was an inconsistent performance from the Bulls’ defense, who last week limited the Crimson Tide to their lowest-scoring victory since 2014.
South Florida’s pass defense struggled throughout most of the game, allowing Rice senior quarterback J.T. Daniels to pass for 432 yards and three touchdowns before exiting with an injury in the third quarter.
Daniels was the most experienced quarterback the Bulls have faced all season, with the sixth-year senior making 35 career starts in his collegiate career. He connected with sophomore wide receiver Luke McCaffrey throughout the game, who finished with 199 receiving yards.
Despite the woes in the secondary, the run defense enjoyed a much different performance.
USF allowed only one yard rushing from the Owls, who spent the majority of the game with negative rushing yards. This ranks as the sixth fewest rushing yards allowed in a single game in program history.
Finishing with a team total of 11 tackles for loss, the Bulls run defense finds themselves in a favorable position heading against Navy, who almost exclusively runs the ball.
Navy averages 222.3 yards per game, led by senior fullback Alex Tecza who ran for 163 yards and a touchdown against Memphis.
Golesh dialed up the playcalling
Following a relatively conservative approach in the first half, including two drives that stalled out in Bulls’ territory that resulted in field goals, the USF offense exploded in the second half.
Nearly half of Brown’s passing yards came in the third quarter as the Bulls offense scored 29 second half points.
Golesh attributed the second half offense to halftime coaching changes and a suggestion from his quarterback, attempting to exploit the Rice defense and generate more explosive plays.
“I thought at halftime we weren’t able to generate chunk plays,” Golesh said.
“It was actually [Brown’s] idea… to go to some bigger personnel and let them work the outside,” Golesh said.
Upcoming road trip will prove to be a test
After a three-game homestand, the Bulls will now play four out of the next five games on the road. USF will take on Navy next Saturday for its second consecutive week of conference play.
The Bulls and the Midshipmen (1-2, 0-1 AAC) last faced off in 2019, where USF was blown out in a 35-3 loss.
Maintaining defensive continuity will be crucial as the Bulls will face a Navy rushing attack that ranks within the top ten in the country.