A strong defensive showing and a record-setting day from senior wide receiver Sean Atkins led USF to a 27-23 win over Temple on Saturday afternoon.
The Bulls (5-5, 3-3 AAC) need one more win to become eligible for their first bowl game since 2018.
Atkins, who broke the program record for most receptions in a season, said playing in meaningful games in November is “surreal.”
Bulls coach Alex Golesh said he was proud of the work his team has put in.
“I enjoy the moments,” Golesh said. “I enjoy the process more than anything else. I enjoy the preparation. I enjoy the challenges that this job brings.”
USF scored three touchdowns on its first three possessions, establishing a quick 17-0 first-quarter lead.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Byrum Brown added two more touchdowns to his impressive season, recording his fourth 300-yard game.
The defense came up the biggest in the clutch, racking up four takeaways.
Senior defensive back Tramel Logan scored a third-quarter pick-six, recording his second defensive touchdown of the season to put the Bulls up 27-13.
Owls sophomore quarterback EJ Warner connected with senior receiver Dante Wright for a score with seven minutes to play in the fourth quarter, seemingly decreasing the deficit to just a field goal — until Temple missed the extra point.
Golesh recognizes that moment as a turning point in how the Bulls would close out the rest of the game.
“I thought our defense forcing them to miss that extra point was huge,” Golesh said. “You play the end of the game differently that way up four rather than three.”
Atkins has arguably been the most consistent piece on the offense all season. This win saw him etch his name into the record books.
With a third-quarter reception caught across the field into the redzone, Atkins broke the single-season reception mark. He ended the day grabbing nine receptions for 169 yards.
He surpassed Rodney Adams’ record of 67 receptions, set in 2016.
While the record is something he can add to his resume. Atkins said he’s focused on something bigger – playing in a bowl game.
“I’m not six foot three, I can’t run a 4.3 (40-yard dash),” he said. “I gotta do the little stuff right and just be consistent and confident in my own play.”
Atkins’ last reception of the game happened to arguably seal the win. He caught a crucial pass on 3rd and 14 to extend the Bulls’ final drive, allowing them to run out the rest of the clock.
Junior defensive back Aamaris Brown, who remembers the feeling of continuously losing last season, is noticing the team’s improvements.
USF has surpassed its win total over the past three seasons combined under former coach Jeff Scott. Atkins has remained with the program through the ups and downs.
“It’s still not what we want,” said Brown, who finished the game with two interceptions. “But it’s better than what we’ve been.”
The Bulls will have a short work week as they prepare for their next opponent – a Friday night road tilt with UTSA.
The Roadrunners (6-3, 5-0 AAC) won back-to-back Conference USA titles before being added as a member of the American. USF will expect to face a rowdy environment in the Alamo Dome as it attempts to chase its sixth win.
Playing in front of a nationally televised audience, Atkins says his team will respond best when the lights are brightest.
“I honestly think we play some of our best football when it’s primetime,” he said. “I think we’re going to go out and play with a little chip on our shoulder.”