It is very early in the college football season, but fans at Raymond James Stadium were treated to a game of the year contender on Saturday afternoon. The USF Bulls welcomed in Paul Johnson’s triple option attack and the Ramblin’ Wreck of Georgia Tech. It was a back and forth affair that featured multiple QBs for the Yellow Jackets, 2 kickoff returns for touchdowns for the Bulls, and Blake Barnett doing his best Quinton Flowers impersonation. At the end of the day Barnett will get a ton of the accolades, but he got a ton of help from Terrence Horne Jr.’s enormous day on special teams and Bentlee Sanders making the biggest defensive play of the game when he got the chance. All of that led to the Bulls pulling off the 49-38 upset over the ACC opponent after going down by 10 early in the final quarter.
The first drive this week wasn’t an ideal one for the Bulls. They pushed into Georgia Tech territory after a good kick return, but then Blake Barnett made his 1st bad decision as a Bull. The transfer tried to force a ball into triple coverage and was intercepted by Tariq carpenter. Georgia Tech got a little drive going, but the Bulls defense stood strong to hold them to 3 points. The 1st kickoff return for Terrence Horne Jr. was good. The 2nd one was great. The true freshman took it 98 yards to the endzone to flip the momentum on a dime and give his team the lead. Georgia Tech fired back with a big play of their own when TaQuon Marshall busted off a 45-yard touchdown run. Horne then got the ball again and took it all the way AGAIN! This time it was a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The back and forth then continued. Marshall found Clinton Lynch for an 81-yard touchdown pass. The Yellow Jackets wouldn’t make the mistake of kicking it deep to Horne again and squibbed it. USF marched down the field all the way to the Georgia Tech 1-yard line, but were unable to punch it in on 4th and goal.
The defense once again did the job to back up an offensive mistake though. They quickly got the ball back to Barnett and the boys and they took off on their most methodical drive of the game. Barnett’s legs were a big part of the success till they got to the redzone. Barnett got it out to Darnell Salomon on a wide receiver thing and then he did the rest; taking it 18 yards into the endzone. That put USF back on top by 4 with 10 minutes remaining in the half. USF ended up stalling the most productive drive for the Yellow Jackets. They got a huge 4th down stand when Kevin Kegler mauled Marshall for the sack. The Bulls had a chance to add to the lead with a hail mary at the end of the half, but they couldn’t complete it.
Georgia Tech got the ball to start the 2nd half and they made the most of it. The marched down the field in a little over 3 minutes and Tobias Oliver’s 5-yard touchdown run capped it off to put them back in front by 3. The back and forth continued. Barnett and Tyre McCants connected multiple times on the next drive as the Bulls marched right down the field themselves. Duran Bell Jr.’s then took it right up the gut and he wasn’t even touched on his 14 yard jaunt into the endzone. Oliver stayed in at quarterback for Tech on the next drive and it was successful again. The triple option attack went 75 yards in 9 plays. Oliver punched it in again, this time from a yard out, to continue the back and forth theme. Georgia Tech finally forced a punt on the next drive and pushed the ball all the way down to the 1-yard line on the final play of the quarter.
The Bulls defense stuffed Oliver on that 3rd and goal play, but they couldn’t do it on 4th. The freshman bounced outside the scrum and took it in to give his team a 10 point lead in the final frame. The Bulls answered right back though. They went 76 yards in just over 2 minutes. Horne proved that he doesn’t just score on special teams. Barnett got him the ball near the line of scrimmage and he did the rest of the work, taking it in from 3 yards out. Georgia Tech looked like they might have been driving in for a score that might have been the dagger, but then the defense came up with a HUGE play. Last week’s leading tackler, Bentlee Sanders forced a Qua Searcy and Nico Sawtelle recovered to get the Bulls the ball back with a chance to take the lead. The offense didn’t let the defense down either. Barnett again found McCants multiple times, but when the time came he took things into his own hands. The quarterback ran it in from 19 yards out on a read option to give his team a 4-point lead with just over 5 minutes remaining. Sawtelle intercepted Marshall on the next drive to really get the crowd going nuts. Barnett then took the Bulls the rest of the distance into the endzone to really put the cap on this 4th quarter comeback.
Next week the Bulls will face another power 5 non conference foe. USF travels north to face Lovie Smith and Illinois. The game will take place at the home of the Bears, Soldier Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 and it will be another nationally televised contest on the Big 10 Network.