by Tyler McConnell
AMHERST- What started as a potential upset turned into a historic night for USF in a 58-42 victory over the University of Massachusetts in Amherst Saturday afternoon. UMass, under acting head coach Ed Pinkham, was unable to contain the USF ground attack, which racked up 365 yards. USF running back Jordan Cronkrite etched his name in program and conference record books, breaking the USF and American Athletic Conference single game rushing record. He finished the night with 302 yards and 3 touchdowns on 23 carries. For a part of the night however, the Bulls were hoping to survive an upset.
The Bulls got the scoring going on just their second play of the game when quarterback Blake Barnett found Tyre McCants down the middle for a 72-yard score. UMass would respond to that score on their first possession, when redshirt senior quarterback Andrew Ford found Brennon Dingle for a 31-yard touchdown. After a USF turnover and a UMass punt, the Bulls would grab the lead with a 29-yard field goal from Coby Weiss to make it 10-7. The teams combined for nine offensive drives in the first quarter. The score would stay locked at 10-7 until Blake Barnett threw an interception to UMass linebacker Bryton Barr. Barr, who only had one career interception coming in to Saturday, returned the pick 53 yards to the USF 13-yard line. The Minutemen would take advantage when Ford found Samuel Emilus for a 13-yard touchdown on a trick play to put UMass in front 14-10. On the ensuing kickoff, a scary moment occurred when Trevon Sands hit Michael Nesmith while trying to make a block. The UMass linebacker had to be taken off the field on a stretcher. Sands would be ejected from the game. After this, neither team would get on the board for the next 12 minutes until the Bulls converted a 25-yard field goal to make the score 14-13. The game changed on the next kickoff.
Marquis Young, the senior running back for UMass, was hit hard on the return and lost the football, allowing Tony Grier to recover it in UMass territory. On the very next play, the Bulls jumped out in front with a 19-yard run by freshman running back Johnny Ford, one of his two touchdowns on the day. The teams would head to the locker room with the Bulls ahead 20-14, but the game shifted in the Bulls’ favor from there on out. The Bulls would score five times in the 3rd quarter, including Jordan Cronkrite’s three touchdown runs. UMass, despite making it a 20-point game with just under three and a half to play in the third, could not close the gap, as the Bulls put 10 points up in the 4th quarter and held on to win 58-42. Jordan Cronkrite’s historic night highlighted what was an up and down affair for the Bulls.
Cronkrite became the new USF and AAC single game rushing yard record holder with 302 yards on the ground. He also added three scores of 77, 30 and 76 respectively. Croknrite’s performance was a difference maker, as 365 of the Bulls’ 574 total yards came on the ground. Jordan Cronkrite was quick to give his offensive line credit for his performance.
“They made big holes, I saw it and I just went, they did a great job getting the push up front and getting movement,” Cronkrite said.
The offensive line redeemed themselves in some ways on Saturday, after giving up six sacks two weeks ago against ECU, only two sacks were allowed on quarterback Blake Barnett. The blocking allowed Jordan Cronkrite to burst up the middle untouched for long runs. Despite the success, USF head coach Charlie Strong says the Bulls need to play cleaner football.
“I know this we’re going to have to play much better than what we played, too many penalties,” Strong said. “We’re just going to have to come out and play smarter and be a disciplined football team.”
The Bulls committed 11 penalties for 100 yards, something they have struggled with throughout the season. Despite this, the Bulls made enough plays on both sides of the ball to improve to 5-0 for the second straight year and the sixth time in program history. UMass drops to 2-5 on the season and suffers their first loss at home. The Minutemen remain winless against AAC competition.
The Bulls needed all the momentum they could get in the first half thanks to turnovers, but otherwise played a sloppy half. Once again, the defense did enough to give the offense a chance to make plays, and this time they were able to deliver. USF continues to show how much of a second half team they are, scoring 38 points, including 28 in the third quarter alone. Jordan Cronkrite has proven he will be a force to be reckoned with in the AAC, and the Bulls will continue to rely on his production in the future. With a short week, the Bulls will have to clean up their miscues.
The Minutemen proved their air attack can be difficult to stop, but their offense became one-dimensional for most of the game. UMass did not crack the 100-yard rush mark and had to rely on the arms of quarterbacks Andrew Ford and Ross Comis. While they managed to put up 42 points, they could not overcome the struggles of their defense, which ranks near the bottom of the NCAA in major statistical categories. The bye week will provide a chance for the Minutemen to regroup and prepare for Coastal Carolina.
The USF Bulls (5-0) will travel to H.A. Chapman stadium in Tulsa, Oklahoma to take on the University of Tulsa on October 12.
The UMass Minutemen (2-5) will have the week off before returning to action on October 20 to take on Coastal Carolina at home.