(Greenville, NC) USF scored 35 straight points in the first half and kept its foot on the gas pedal after the break in a 45-20 rout of East Carolina on Saturday that extended the Bulls’ winning streak against the Pirates to five games.
USF (4-4, 2-2) has won all five road games is the series with ECU (3-5, 0-4) and remained unbeaten in Greenville after posting new season highs with 347 rushing yards and 525 total yards.
Senior Jordan Cronkrite (Miami) registered his third 100-yard rushing game in the past four outings with 129 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. The senior, who ran for over 1,000 yards last season, now has 511 yards in the last four games. Freshman Jah’Quez rushed for a career-high 99 yards in the second quarter on six direct snaps in the wildcat.
Quarterback Jordan McCloud went 9-for-12 for 102 yards in a first half that saw the redshirt freshman throw touchdown passes to Jacob Mathis and Randall St. Felix, the latter of which set season highs with five catches for 79 yards. McCloud also rushed for 49 yards on four carries in his sixth straight start before sitting out the second half with a minor right ankle sprain.
USF seized the momentum with 35 unanswered points that led to a 35-10 lead at the half. The Bulls gained 248 of their 358 total first-half yards on the ground, scored 14 points off two takeaways and totaled seven of their nine total tackles for loss in the game.
Tyler Snead’s 100-yard kickoff return gave ECU the lead right out of the gates before USF answered right back on its opening drive. Cronkrite’s 5-yard touchdown capped off a 10-play, 75-yard sequence that saw the Bulls convert twice on third down. Cronkite set up the score with a 21-yard run on third-and-3, one play after 17-yard scramble by McCloud, who went 3-for-4 for 35 yards on the drive.
McCloud’s 21-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Jacob Mathis gave the Bulls the lead in the final minute of the opening quarter. Six plays before the go-ahead score, senior safety Studstill recovered a fumble after senior linebacker Patrick Macon ripped the ball out at the Bulls’ 11-yard line.
USF used an 18-yard touchdown reception by St. Felix to take a 21-7 lead midway through the second quarter. The Bulls needed just 35 yards to reach the end zone after Tampa native KJ Sails’ 24-yard return on ECU’s third of four punts in the half.
Three plays after a 48-yard interception return by senior end Reaves, USF pumped up its lead to 28-7 thanks to Evan’s first career touchdown run from 34 yards. Evans used six direct snaps to rack up 99 rushing yards in the second quarter.
ECU’s last-second field goal before the break halted the Bulls’ scoring streak, which reached 35 points after Cronkrite’s 10-yard touchdown run with 19 seconds left in the half. Cronkrite rushed for 91 yards on eight attempts in the first two quarters.
USF’s defense came up with a fourth-down stop from its own goal line midway through the third quarter and capitalized on the stand with a 24-yard field goal by Spencer Shrader. Rygol accounted for 56 of USF’s 88 yards on its 15-play drive that took 7:11 off the clock.
Rygol threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Horne on USF’s next drive, a six-play, 66-yard sequence, that gave the Bulls a 45-10 advantage with 11:57 to play.
The Bulls’ defense didn’t give up a touchdown until only 45 seconds remained in the game. Sophomore defensive backs Bentlee Sanders, Nick Roberts and Studstill all tied for the game high with nine tackles apiece.
“To come on the road and get another conference win, it was really good”, said Bulls Head Coach Charlie Strong. “We ran the ball really well, rushed for over 300 yards and the offense did a great job. We ended up playing three quarterbacks, but it was just good to see them play so hard. Defensively, we were able to get the stops at the right time.”
The Bulls are on a bye next week and return to Raymond James Stadium on Thursday, Nov. 7 to host Temple at 8 p.m. (TV: ESPN).