Tampa – The University of South Florida opened play with Colonial American Association foe Elon for the second time in program history on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium, coming out on top, 34-14.
Blake Barnett silenced some doubters in his first start in the post-Quinton Flowers era.
He threw for three first-half touchdowns as the Bulls jumped out to a quick 24-0 lead on the Phoenix.
The graduate transfer seemed quite comfortable under the lights in the green and gold, firing a dart to Randall St. Felix down the right sideline for a 40-yard touchdown pass – needing just 1:15 and three plays to do so.
Vincent Jackson Jr. snagged a batted interception out of the air to set up the drive.
Elon had control of the first quarter, holding the ball for 12:22 of the opening frame. Two of Elon’s first three drives took five minutes alone.
Barnett fired a 52-yard drive to St. Felix on USF’s opening drive of the second to set up a 33-yard field goal from Jake Vivonetto, who won the kicker job out of camp.
USF’s defense finished second in the country with 20 interceptions in 2017 – they got off to a quick start in 2018 with Mike Hampton getting an pick of his own on Elon’s first full drive of the second quarter.
The Bulls needed just two plays to get back into the end zone, as Barnett found Tyre McCants for a 16-yard strike. Barnett then hit Mitch Wilcox for a 14-yard touchdown to finish off an effective first half.
USF outgained the Phoenix 293-103 in the first half.
Barnett picked things up where he left off with a three-yard touchdown rushing touchdown on fourth-and-goal after a strong goal-line stand from Elon.
Elon showed life late in the third quarter with a 12-yard outside rush from backup quarterback Jalen Greene. They would get a one-yard strike from Brelynd Cyphers to get another touchdown back to begin the fourth.
Vivonetto netted a second field goal – a 41-yard kick – just short of six minutes to play in the half.
The Bulls alternated in their last couple of drives between backup quarterbacks: Brett Kean and Chris Oladokun. Kean illustrated the drive that ended in the Vivonetto kick.
USF’s defense shut down the Elon passing game, only allowing them 42 yards on the night. The Phoenix did have some success in running the ball – compiling 192 yards on the ground, 87 coming by way of Jaylan Thomas.
Barnett’s final line in his first game in a USF uniform was quite impressive, going 24-for-34 with 305 yards and 3 TDs. He had 31 yards on the ground. St. Felix caught seven passes for 143 yards – a game-high.
Khalid McGee and Jaymon Thomas had a game-high 11 tackles for the Bulls. Kirk Livingstone had 2 1/2 TFL with a forced fumble.