Tampa Bay Sports Day

RECAP: USF’s Barnett Shines in Second Half of Loss to SMU

TAMPA – USF fell behind early in their conference-opening clash with SMU Saturday, but QB Blake Barnett  jump-started the offense with three touchdown passes on three straight drives in the second half of a 48-21 loss to unbeaten SMU (5-0) at Raymond James Stadium.

Barnett completed 13 of 21 passes for 222 yards, his 10th career 200-yard passing game, and the senior added 24 rushing yards in an impressive relief effort.

“It’s one of those games, and I just told our players, we will get it corrected because we’re better than that.  Our team can’t fall behind, 34-0. We’re not good enough to get caught back up,” said USF head coach Charlie Strong.

Redshirt freshman Jordan McCloud earned his second straight start at QB, but was sacked six times in the first half and exited with a sprained wrist before USF (1-3) saw its three-game winning streak in wn catch late in the fourth quarter.

Sophomore receiver Bryce Miller also provided a spark in the second half with a 13-yard touchdown catch from Barnett and finished with three receptions for a career-high 57 yards.

After the Bulls fell behind 41-0, junior tight end Jacob Mathis started the scoring for USF with a 24-yard touchdown catch from Barnett late in the third quarter. The Tampa native totaled a career-high 54 receiving yards after posting a career long of 30 yards on his other catch.

USF headed into the conference opener tied for the national lead with 11 takeaways and added two to the total with interceptions by senior safety Devin Studstill and redshirt freshman lineman Stacy Kirby.

After scoring 55 points before the bye week, USF couldn’t stay in a rhythm on offense while red-hot SMU jumped out to a 34-0 halftime lead.

Xavier Jones’ first of two first-half touchdown runs started the scoring for SMU with 9:58 remaining in the opening quarter before USF nearly evened things up on the next drive.

Senior back Jordan Cronkrite hauled in a 31-yard reception on third-and-14 at the USF 19. The 16-play, 77-yard drive was kept alive by McCloud’s 18-yard scramble to the SMU 17 on fourth-and-7, but the Bulls came away with no points after McCloud was intercepted in the end zone.

SMU scored touchdowns on five straight possessions as senior QB Shane Buechele was razor sharp completing his first 13 passes, throwing three touchdown passes and running for a 10-yard touchdown.

Safety Devin Studstill had a 40-yard return on his first interception as a Bull late in the first half, and now has two takeaways in his first four games with the program, as the Bulls forced three punts and corralled the interception on SMU’s final four possessions of the half.

Barnett started the second half and got the offense going late in the third quarter, orchestrating a 75-yard scoring drive capped off by Mathis’ first career touchdown catch from 24 yards out. Wilcox took the Bulls into SMU territory with a 43-yard reception on the five-play sequence that got the Bulls on the scoreboard in the final minute of the third quarter.

Barnett made it back-to-back scoring drives for the Bulls by throwing a 13-yard touchdown pass to Miller with 10:40 remaining. Miller set up his first career touchdown catch with a career long 37-yard reception on the four-play, 83-yard drive that took just 1:12 off the clock.

USF extended its scoring streak to three straight drives with Barnett’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Wilcox with 2:57 remaining. Wilcox also had a 20-yard catch on the five-play, 82-yard drive that started with a career long 30-yard reception by Mathis.

Kirby gave the Bulls the ball right back with his first career interception on a pass tipped at the line with 1:27 remaining. Sophomore safety Nick Roberts and senior linebacker Patrick Macon led the defense with a game-high nine tackles apiece..

Senior tight end Mitchell Wilcox led the Bulls with 77 yards on four receptions, including a 43-yarder and a 7-yard touchdown.

USF continues conference play at UConn on Saturday, Oct. 5. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. and the game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.