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USF routes Syracuse in Boca Raton Bowl

USF recorded its first shutout victory since 2009 on Thursday against Syracuse. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

BOCA RATON – USF football put a cap on a foundational first season under Bulls head coach Alex Golesh in the Boca Raton Bowl on Thursday.

In its first postseason appearance in five years, the Bulls (7-6, 4-4 AAC) secured a 45–0 shutout win against the Orange (6-7, 2-6 ACC) in front of an announced crowd of 20,711 at FAU Stadium. 

It’s the Bulls’ first bowl victory since they beat Texas Tech in 2017 and their first victory against a Power Five opponent.

The win represents the foundation Golesh has built over the past year, but he said it is far from the expectations of his program.

”We will win championships in Tampa and will win championships at South Florida,” Golesh said. “I can’t wait to get there whenever we’re ready for that moment…but tonight, against a good ACC team, we were.”

USF scored on its second drive of the game due to a 13-yard pass from redshirt quarterback Byrum Brown to senior wide receiver Sean Atkins.

Their synergy shined throughout the game. Both players helped propel the Bulls’ 407 offensive yards.

Brown totaled 214 passing yards on 19-26 attempts en route to becoming the second quarterback in school history to total 4,000 offensive yards in a season.

His three passing touchdowns helped him surpass the single-season record that was previously held by former Bulls quarterback Quinton Flowers.

Atkins also broke a record of his own. He became the first receiver in Bulls history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in a season.  

“[Receiver coach L’Damian Washington] taught me how to be the receiver I am today and I just love this team,” he said. “The 1000 yards are not really anything, this means more than anything else.” 

While the Bulls had an explosive offense, it was their defense that made all the difference. In six wins this season, USF has 17 takeaways.

USF added to its win total by forcing four takeaways and three in the first half.  

The Bulls capitalized on the Orange’s shaky quarterback play. Starting Orange senior quarterback Garrett Shrader did not play in the Boca Raton Bowl because he is recovering from shoulder surgery.

Because of this, Syracuse ran a wildcat formation. It’s a system in which another offensive player plays the quarterback position. 

The Orange utilized tight end Dan Villari as their signal-caller throughout the first half and USF was able to exploit.

RELATED: Watch USF Football shutout Syracuse in Boca Raton Bowl

Bulls cornerback Tavin Ward forced another fumble which junior defensive back Aamaris Brown-Bunkley returned for a 64-yard touchdown. The defensive play increased the 14-0 lead in the first quarter. 

Brown-Bunkley said it had been a goal for the team all season to shut out an opponent — a feat they achieved for the first time since 2009 on Thursday.

“In the last game, forcing a team to zero points meant a lot for this team, so just watch out for next year,” Brown-Bunkley said.

Bulls redshirt freshman defensive end Jacquez Williams intercepted Vallari’s pass with just over eight minutes remaining in the second quarter.

Then, senior defensive linebacker Tramel Logan returned a fumble 61 yards to help the Bulls end the first half with a 31-0 lead, marking their highest-scoring first half of the season.

In the opening possession of the second half, Ward intercepted another pass by Villari. It would set up another touchdown pass from Brown to Atkins to increase their lead 38-0.

USF also stifled Syracuse’s rushing attack. The Orange only managed 20 yards on 41 rushing attempts. Running back Lequint Allen, who ran for 1089 yards this season before the game, recorded two rushing yards on 20 attempts. 

Senior running back Nay’Quan Wright scored on a two-yard run with a little over 13 minutes remaining. 

When Golesh discussed the Bulls’ progress during his inaugural season, building a foundation was a theme he emphasized throughout.

That foundation is to ultimately reach the lofty expectations set by the program when they were at one point the second-highest-ranked team in the country. 

“There should be an expectation,” Golesh said. “There should be a standard, and we’re going to work like crazy to that standard.”