CHICAGO, SEPT. 15, 2018 – USF (3-0) erased a halftime deficit with 18 unanswered points in the forth quarter and extended its winning streak against Power Five foes to five straight with a 25-19 victory over Illinois (2-1) at Soldier Field on Saturday.
USF struggled big time in the first half. Picks, penalties and poor kicks were conspiring to produce the worst effort of the 15-game Charlie Strong era.
The Illini opened the scoring 4 minutes in with a touchdown, but the Bulls responded with an 11-play, 75-yard drive in 3:02 to tie things up on Jordan Cronkrite’s first touchdown, his first for USF.
The Bull’s first half was a mess. The Bulls committed six first-half penalties, the first one really smarted when Barnett’s fourth-and-7 completion to Wilcox for first-down yardage inside the Illini 20 was negated by a 15-yard tripping penalty. The Bulls punted as a result.
The Bulls were gashed for 135 rushing yards in the first half. On its second drive, Illinois reeled off runs of 32 and 43 yards, the latter a touchdown by tailback Mike Epstein.
“They were doing some things we weren’t used to,” linebacker Khalid McGee said.
USF QB Blake Barnett also threw two picks (though only one can be reasonably pinned on him) and transfer kicker Coby Weiss missed field goals of 44 and 40 yards. Weiss made a 35-yarder on his second attempt, but it was negated by a false-start flag.
“I told our team even before the game started, ‘You’re gonna get your best today from Illinois,’ ” said Strong, whose team committed 14 penalties for 124 yards. “ ’No. 1, we’re not prepared to play, we’re not focused and we’re gonna have to be a disciplined team.’ There’s no excuses, but the day is on me and the coaching staff. We just didn’t have our team ready to go.”
USF answered the bell in the second half. The defense stiffened and only allowed the Illini to 149 yards, and Illinois freshmen QB MJ Rivers would have a long second half, being sacked five times, three in their final drive.
The Bulls started the fourth quarter down by 12. Barnett started the fourth quarter with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Darnell Solomon. The Bulls defense came through strong with three key sacks in the fourth.
Later, Barrett threw a go ahead bomb to Salomon for 50 yards and a game winning touchdown with 2:24 remaining in the game.
Barnett managed to have the second best single game performance in USF history by going 23 of 40 for 411 yards and two touchdowns. Salomon finished with five catches for 95 yards as the Bulls came from behind in the fourth quarter for the second straight week.
“We have a bunch of talent. You look at us on offense, St. Felix had five catches and he had the really big one down there,” Strong added. “Salomon had two touchdowns and Cronkrite rushed for 136, so you’ve got enough weapons. It’s all about just getting the ball and making the plays.”