The USF Bulls travel to “the Windy City” and save their best for last in a thrilling rally to defeat Big Ten opponent Illinois 25-19 Saturday.
Transfer quarterback Blake Barnett led an 18-point fourth-quarter rally throwing for 411 yards and the game-winning touchdown, as the Bulls improved to 3-0.
Trailing 19 to 7 entering the final frame, Barnett (above) threw a touchdown to Darnell Salomon from 14 yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter to trim the lead to 19-14. Later at the midway point of the 4th, Barnett guided another 71-yard drive into the red zone, but when it stalled, Coby Weiss kicked 26 yard field goal to bring USF within two.
After the Bulls defense got to stop, and starting from his 15-yard line, Barnett got them rolling again. He hit completions of 17 and then, 25 yards to get the Bulls to the Illinois 40.
Then, after an incompletion and a couple of false start penalties, USF was facing 3rd and 20 at Midfield. That’s when Barnett lofted a pass down the left sideline to a wide-open Salomon for 50 yards and the eventual game-winning score.
Illinois secondary had blown the coverage leaving Solomon by himself. The Bulls got the two-point conversion and a six-point lead at 25-19.
Illinois had one last chance left, and freshman quarterback M.J, Rivers led them into USF territory, including converting a fourth down in the final :30. However, they could get no closer with Rivers throwing incomplete out of the back of the end zone on the final play of the game.
The win gives USF a second straight 3-o start under coach Charlie Strong and completes back-to-back wins over the Illini, including last year’s victory in Tampa in September.
The loss is especially stinging for Illinois and embattled Coach Lovie Smith, who used to coach the Buccaneers and the Bears. Smith, who did not win a Big Ten game a year ago, is under fire and has now lost 14 of his last 18 games dating back to the end of the 2016 season.
The Bulls also got a 136 yard rushing performance from Jordan Cronkrite that included a first-quarter three yard touchdown run.
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