(CHICAGO) USF (3-0) erased a 12-point fourth quarter deficit with 18 unanswered points and extended its winning streak against Power Five foes to five straight with a 25-19 victory over Illinois at Soldier Field on Saturday.
Darnell Salomon (Miami) completed the comeback with a 50-yard touchdown catch on a pass from Blake Barnett (Corona, Calif.) with 2:24 remaining after starting the fourth quarter with a 14-yard touchdown reception. USF’s defense came up huge with three sacks on the final drive of the game and didn’t allow a touchdown for the final 55 minutes, 6 seconds.
Barnett threw both his touchdown passes to Salomon in the fourth quarter, completing 23 of 40 attempts for 411 yards, good for the second-best performance in the USF single-game record book. Salomon finished with five catches for 95 yards as the Bulls came from behind in the fourth quarter for the second straight week.
Defensively, linebackers Khalid McGee (Miami) and Nico Sawtelle (Jensen Beach, Fla.) had career-high tackle days with 14 and 13 stops, respectively. Ronnie Hoggins (Coconut Creek, Fla.) added 11 tackles while Kevin Kegler (Madison, Fla.) finished with a career-high 1.5 sacks.
Mitchell Wilcox (Tarpon Springs, Fla.) set a new USF game record for a tight end with eight catches for 109 yards, both career highs. Barnett also completed six passes to Randall St. Felix (Miami), who finished his second 100-yard game with 120 receiving yards and hauled in a career long 55-yard catch in the fourth quarter.
Jordan Cronkrite (Miami) rushed for a career-high 136 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries to help the Bulls register their fourth 600-plus yard outing. The Bulls finished with 626 yards, outgaining Illinois, which finished with 380, by 246 yards on the day.
USF faced its first halftime deficit this season despite leading Illinois in offensive yards by a 267-231 margin in the first two quarters.
Illinois (2-1) jumped out to a 7-0 lead just over four minutes into the first quarter. USF bounced right back with Cronkrite’s first touchdown run as a Bull from 3 yards out that capped off an 11-play, 75-yard drive in 3:02. The sequence was kept alive by a gutsy 7-yard reception by Wilcox on fourth-and-5 from the Illinois 26.
USF trailed, 16-7, at the break after preventing more points with a clutch takeaway on defense. Down, 13-7, in the second quarter, senior cornerback Mazzi Wilkins (Tampa) recovered an Illinois fumble at the USF 31 with 5:26 to go before halftime. McGee had a standout first half with nine tackles (seven solo).
USF cut into its 12-point fourth quarter deficit with Barnett’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Salomon on the first play of the period. Wilcox posted four catches for 53 yards on the 11-play, 75-yard drive.
Coby Weiss’ 26-yard field goal made it a two-point game with 7:47 remaining. The score was set up by a leaping, career long 55-yard catch by St. Felix down to the Illinois 12.
USF’s defense forced a punt with 3:47 left to give coordinator Gilbert’s offense a chance at a go-ahead score. USF needed just 1:17 to grab its first lead, capping off a six-play, 85-yard drive with Barnett’s 50-yard touchdown pass to Salomon. Barnett increased the lead to 25-19 with a two-point conversion pass to St. Felix.
Sacks by Kirk Livingstone (Fort Lauderdale, FL), Kegler and Tyrone Barber (Venice, Fla.) helped stall the final Illinois drive that ended with an incomplete pass in the end zone with no time remaining.
Head coach Charlie Strong’s thoughts on USF’s comeback victory:
The Bulls are back at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 22 for a conference clash with East Carolina. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPNews.
ga('create', 'UA-96384574-1', 'auto');