Houston, Texas — The fourth quarter magic ran out for the University of South Florida on Saturday afternoon at TDECU Stadium at the University of Houston.
The host Cougars rattled off 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to finish off an explosive offensive day, sparked by electric QB D’Eriq King.
Meanwhile, USF’s defense allowed the Cougars to gash them for 57 points, a program worst.
Houston jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead in the first quarter after a 47-yard King touchdown run, then a 15-yard strike from King to Marquez Stevenson, nearly three minutes later.
USF jumped on the board with a one-yard touchdown run from Jordan Cronkrite to cap off a 15-play, 79-yard drive on the Bulls’ first of the second quarter. On the ensuing Houston drive, Mekhi LaPointe snagged his first career interception. Johnny Ford turned that into points with a 32-yard touchdown rush to draw USF even.
Houston answered on its next drive with a 38-yard touchdown pass from King to Stevenson – just a part of a career day for the Houston quarterback.
“It’s hard to match scores and it’s hard to play catch up [on the road], and it’s all we did,” said USF Head Coach Charlie Strong. “It’s a 50-50 ball, and a lot of times on 50-50 balls, the offense is going to win it because they’re going to find the ball. Very seldom does the defense get his eyes back, because he’s really trailing from behind.”
The Bulls came right back with another long drive, capped off by another rushing touchdown from Ford, this time a 17-yard strike. That touchdown capped off another strong day from the true freshman, who continues to get better each week. Ford finished his Saturday with 16 carries for 106 yards – his second straight 100-yard rushing performance.
USF’s offense did its part in the second quarter, matching Houston throughout the period. Courtney Lark snagged a 30-yard pass from King to pull the Cougars out in front before the halftime break.
From there, the Bulls started to settle.
King was flagged for intentional grounding in his own end zone – a safety – which gave USF a much-needed two points and possession. The Bulls marched down the field powered by a face mask penalty but froze once they entered the red zone.
Coby ‘The G’ Weiss booted a 23-yard field goal to get something out of the drive – drawing USF within two.
King would continue to put on a show on the other end. Facing a fourth-and-seven at the USF 36, King broke a couple of tackles and used a shifty spin move to take the quarterback keeper to the house. Houston, in turn, extended its lead to nine.
“We had him stopped and then guys relaxed,” Strong said.
Once again, USF drove down the field on its next possession, but again, the Bulls would freeze inside the red zone. Two straight Cronkrite runs inside the Houston ten were unsuccessful. Weiss and the field goal team had to trot back onto the field for a 25-yard field goal.
Houston kept scoring touchdowns, King throwing to Jeremy Singleton over the top for a 52-yard touchdown to push the pace. This time, USF answered back with a 39-yard touchdown throw from Blake Barnett to Deangelo Antoine – his first touchdown reception of the season.
It would turn out to be the final time USF found pay dirt on Saturday afternoon.
Houston would find it twice more. Set up by a 45-yard pass from King to Stevenson, Mulbah Car took a 11-yard rush to the right side to put Houston’s 50th point on the board. Nearly five minutes later, King hit Rael Singleton over the top for a 27-yard touchdown as a final blow.
King finished with seven touchdowns (five pass, two rush), a career best for the junior. He threw for 419 yards and added 134 more on the ground. As a whole, the Houston offense collected 684 yards of total offense on Saturday afternoon.
Barnett was 26-for-39, good for 263 yards and a touchdown. Ryeshene Bronson led all USF receivers with five receptions for 52 yards. Stevenson and Jeremy Singleton both had 100-yard receiving games for the Cougars.
“[There’s] a lot to learn from,” Barnett said. “Our goals in mind are still available. We’re going to come out and give everything we have for the rest of the season, we just have to continue to get better.”
The Bulls return to Raymond James Stadium next Saturday with a date with Tulane ahead in USF’s annual Salute to Service Game – kickoff slated for 3:30 p.m.
Ford running strong for second straight week
After not being slated to play much, if at all, in USF’s crowded backfield (preceded by Cronkrite, Elijah Mack, Duran Bell, and Trevon Sands in fall camp) – the Miami High graduate has taken the opportunity of playing while other guys nursed injuries and ran with it.
“He’s a different back,” Strong said after USF’s victory against UConn two weeks ago. “He’s an explosive, quick back. He’s a little guy that can hide behind the linemen and once he breaks to the second level, he can get you a bunch of yards.”
Saturday’s 106-yard performance was Ford’s second straight 100-yard game on the ground and his third multi-touchdown game on the season.
Ford was named the most outstanding high school player in Miami-Dade County in 2017. He has quickly turned himself into a household name as a USF Bull through the first eight games. Just as quick, Ford has linked with fellow backfield mate Cronkrite, both growing up in Miami. After Ford scored his first touchdown on Saturday, Cronkrite immediately jumped out and congratulated him. Numerous Twitter exchanges show admiration from both sides.
@F5johnno3 yo can I have an autograph? Huge fan. I come to all the games
— Jordan Cronkrite (@JCronkk) October 30, 2018
“I always tell him, ‘just lead the way,’ he’s experienced a lot of stuff, so I just tell him to lead the way, and I’ll follow,” Ford said. “He’s always helping me, when we’re in a game, he’ll tell me what he sees, he’ll suggest things that I should do. We feed off of each other. He always has stayed on me, and its starting to pay off.”
The two worked under the same coach, creating that important link. Coach Sedrick Irvin was the head coach at Westminster Christian in Miami for all four seasons (2011-14) that Cronkrite played in high school. Irvin then took the job at Miami High in 2017, in Ford’s senior year. That common bond has been important for Ford as he navigates through his first season at the collegiate level.
“He’s a great role model that any kid would want to look up to,” Ford said.
Reaves transitioning to linebacker
Greg Reaves registered a game high 12 tackles (5 solo, 1.5 TFL) on Saturday in his second start at linebacker, filling in for a banged-up Nico Sawtelle (shoulder). Reaves shifted into a middle linebacker spot at times, then moved to the edge otherwise. Reaves played at safety while at Manatee High in Bradenton, then moved down to defensive end during fall camp.
It’s been an interesting move, but Reaves has filled in fairly well alongside Khalid McGee.
“It’s been difficult the first couple of days, but I’m starting to get a better understanding of it, where I’m supposed to be, who’s outside of me, it’s just a lot of little things and getting the details right,” said an emotional Reaves on Saturday.
In the grand scheme of things, with Sawtelle out, the Bulls don’t have a natural linebacker playing consistently. McGee transitioned to linebacker from safety, in which he made ten starts at the position in 2016. True freshman Dwayne Boyles out of Miami Central registered the start at weak-side linebacker on Saturday, alongside Reaves at middle linebacker.
Barnett calls Saturday “most complete” offensive game thus far
In Saturday’s post-game press conference, QB Blake Barnett called the offensive performance against Houston the “most complete” performance this season. That certainly felt correct, when you look the Bulls previous seven contests. USF spotted Houston those 14 early points, but quickly stormed back in the second.
The 21 points that USF scored in the second quarter matched the highest total scored in the first half – the Bulls put up 21 first half points (only 7 coming from the offense) against Georgia Tech on Sep. 8.
For Barnett to believe that – albeit the game finished as a loss – is a big takeaway from Houston.
“We really needed to improve [as an offense] on coming out in the first half and scoring some points on the board,” Barnett said, who is eyeing the program’s first 3,000-yard passing season. “We have to treat this as a learning experience, come back, and grow.
Injury and other notes
LT Eric Mayes made his first start since September over Donovan Jennings, indicating the senior has made a full recovery from an undisclosed injury…LB Nico Sawtelle missed his second straight game with a shoulder injury…WR Randall St. Felix did not make the trip to Houston but should be ready to go for Tulane, according to Strong…TE Mitchell Wilcox suffered an ankle injury but continued to play…DE Rashawn Yates made the trip to Houston and registered his fourth game of the season, first since mid-September…RB Elijah Mack suited up and made the trip to Houston but did not play…