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Midseason football report card: Despite exceeding expectations, there’s room to improve

Redshirt freshman quarterback Byrum Brown (17) has scored 18 touchdowns just six games into the regular season. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

Halfway through the first season of the Alex Golesh era, USF has enjoyed an overall positive start after only winning four games in three seasons under former coach Jeff Scott. 

Under an entirely retooled roster and coaching staff, the Bulls (3-3, 2-1 AAC) have widely surpassed expectations set for them at the beginning of the season. 

Redshirt freshman quarterback Byrum Brown has also garnered national recognition for his performances after unexpectedly being announced as the starter before USF’s opener at Western Kentucky.

Here’s a look at some of the best moments and players of USF’s season so far.

Best performance

USF vs. Rice (Sept. 23)

 

The Bulls offense put on a record-breaking performance in a 42-29 victory over Rice. 

After struggling to develop offensive continuity, Brown finally began to connect with his receivers as USF posted its most offensive yards in a single game since 2020. 

Brown threw for a career high 435 yards, adding three total touchdowns. Junior wide receiver Naiem Simmons broke a program and state record in receiving yards, catching eight passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns. 

Midseason heartbreak

USF vs. Alabama (Sept. 16)

Going up against then No. 10 Alabama, USF played its top defensive game of the season.

Holding the Crimson Tide to their lowest-scoring win since 2014, the Bulls defense racked up eight tackles for loss and five sacks in the dominant performance. 

The Bulls held a three-point lead through much of the rain-delayed first half, with Alabama not scoring its first touchdown until late in the third quarter

However, with the USF offense unable to generate much momentum and find the end zone, Alabama sealed the game with a fourth-quarter touchdown run to win 17-3. 

Despite their historic defensive game, the Bulls have not been able to match that level of performances they’ve struggled with pass defense. 

Surprise player

Sean Atkins, WR

Under an almost entirely retooled offense, junior wide receiver Sean Atkins has made himself known as the trusted veteran leader in the locker room.

After emerging late last season with a 115-yard performance against Tulsa while leading receiver Xavier Weaver was out with an injury, Atkins has continued his stellar play into this season.

Atkins has been Mr. Reliable for the Bulls offense, leading them in receptions and receiving yards. He has recorded 36 receptions for 422 yards and three touchdowns. 

His 88-yard touchdown catch against Navy is the longest receiving touchdown this season in the AAC, racking up 114 yards and two scores in that game. 

Midseason MVP

Byrum Brown, QB

Taking on his first full season as a starter, Brown has largely been the catalyst for the Bulls’ offensive success so far.

Brown has thrown for 1,483 yards and 11 touchdowns, adding five interceptions. His dual-threat capabilities have also been on full display, leading the team with 466 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. 

He ranks eighth in the country in total offense with 328.3 yards per game, also tying for 11th in the country in rushing touchdowns. 

After his performance against Rice on Sept. 23, Brown was named as the AAC Offensive Player of the Week. It was the first time a USF player has been awarded this honor since 2018.

Looking ahead

With six games left on the schedule, USF will have to drastically improve on defense if it wants to contend for the AAC title. The Bulls currently rank 113th out of 130 FBS teams for the most offensive yards allowed per game. 

The importance of Brown limiting his mistakes is also crucial to South Florida’s success this season. He has a combined six turnovers in the Bulls’ three losses. 

Now in the heart of conference play, with two difficult road tests in Memphis and UTSA still remaining, USF will have to tighten up its defense and prevent crucial turnovers in order to maintain its successful season.

Grade: B+