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‘You have to go through the hard’: Takeaways from USF’s bowl-clinching win against Charlotte

The Bulls became bowl-eligible for the 11th time in program history on Saturday against Charlotte. ORACLE PHOTO/ARIANNA RENICK

USF football’s bowl-clinching 48-14 win against Charlotte on Saturday was cathartic for the entire team but for its 15 seniors in particular.

It was the perfect sendoff for players such as senior offensive lineman Donovan Jennings, who played in the Bulls (6-6, 4-4 AAC) 2018 Gasparilla Bowl matchup. 

He also remained with the program during and after the difficult 2019-2022 seasons, in which the Bulls went 4-29.

Related: USF ends five-year bowl drought with 48-14 win over Charlotte 

“When you want to create something, want to be the foundation…you have to go through the hard,” said Jennings, who tied the record for most games played in USF football program history.

The Bulls’ five-win improvement from last season is the second-best in all of the FBS, behind Northwestern. 

For Bulls coach Alex Golesh, it is the foundation of the process he’s instilled since taking the job nearly a year ago.

“We laid a foundation of what it is to work. I told these guys, ‘Whatever you thought your work ethic was last year, it has to be even more and even harder this year.’”

Here are five takeaways from Saturday’s game against the 49ers (3-9, 2-6 AAC).

USF’s defense created scoring opportunities

The Bulls’ success this season seemed to be determined by their ability or inability to create takeaways. 

Before Saturday, they had 14 takeaways in five wins, but only three in six losses.

South Florida forced three turnovers against Charlotte, which converted into 14 points. 

Senior safety Logan Berryhill intercepted 49ers quarterback Trexler Ivey’s pass in the second quarter.  

Two plays later, Bulls senior wide receiver Sean Atkins threw a 62-yard touchdown to senior running back Kelley Joiner to give the Bulls a 14-7 lead with 8:07 remaining in the period.

USF also forced five ‘three and outs,’ which allowed the offense to get back on the field for more scoring opportunities.

It’s an example of the complementary brand of football Golesh has wanted his team to play all season.

Bulls could benefit from extra practices in December

For the first time in five years, USF’s season will extend into December. This means it’ll be designated extra practice time. 

NCAA rules allow bowl teams to practice for four hours per day or 20 hours per week between the end of the regular season and a bowl game.

Golesh said the additional time is priceless for a team still in the early stages of a rebuild.

“It’s an extra spring,” he said. “It’s why the good teams stay good and the bad teams stay bad and you get an extra spring.”

The transfer portal also opens on Dec. 4. Visiting recruits will be able to see what they could potentially play for should they choose to suit up for the Bulls.

Byrum Brown is the present and future of USF football

Redshirt freshman quarterback Byrum Brown added to his record-breaking resume against Charlotte. It’s a testament to his progress in his first year as a starter.

In week one against Western Kentucky on Sept. 2, Brown relied more on his running. He rushed for 189 yards and two touchdowns and totaled 166 through the air, a touchdown and two interceptions.

On Saturday, he broke the USF season passing record while becoming the first Bull to throw for 3,000 yards in a season.

The record is a microcosm of how Brown has been South Florida’s primary source of offense throughout the season. He has accumulated 3,922 yards, the third-best total offense season in program history. 

Brown is just 78 yards away from becoming the second player in USF football to record 4,000 yards of offense in a season.

Along with his week-to-week improvements, he’s also grown off the field.

“I’ve been more of a leader by action,” Brown said. “Now, I gotta be more vocal and I’m working on that each and every day.” 

Brown said “it’s a blessing” to achieve these records, but he finds more joy in continuing to play with his teammates this season.

“It comes down to everyone going out there and executing,” he said. “It is not just me. It is about the whole team.”

USF’s offense looked consistent

One of the defining traits of a program in year one of a rebuild is inconsistent play. The Bulls are no exception.

“Our deal has been, we’ve started fast really these last three weeks, and we’ve not been able to keep our foot on the gas,” Golesh said. “I told the guys Friday night and again [Saturday] morning, at some point, we’ve got to go choke somebody out. I know that’s probably not the best thing to say in print media, but you have to just keep your foot on the gas.”

Saturday was arguably USF’s most consistent offensive day. The team totaled 503 yards, the fourth time this season they’ve recorded 500+ yards in a single game.

The Bulls had 12 drives, eight of which ended in either a touchdown or a field goal. They scored on six straight possessions from 52 seconds left in the second quarter to 12:45 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Many players also contributed to the scoring effort. Five USF players scored either on the run or through the air. Atkins became the second USF player, and first since wideout Charlie Jackson in 1998, to pass for and catch a touchdown in the same game. 

Joiner had four receptions for 71 yards and two touchdowns, and he also gained 33 rushing yards on four attempts.

The War on I-4 could return for bowl season

The annual ‘War on I-4’ rivalry was put on hiatus when UCF left the American Athletic Conference for the Big 12 in July.

Both USF and UCF secured a bowl berth on Saturday. It leaves the possibility that the Bulls and Knights could play against each other in the postseason.

The Big 12 has more bowl-eligible teams than post-season games affiliated with the conference. It means that UCF could be placed in a different matchup.

Current bowl projections have the two teams meeting in the Gasparilla Bowl on Dec. 22. The teams could also meet in the Cure Bowl on Dec. 16.

Bowl selections are formally announced on Dec. 3.