by Kevin Erlendsson
TAMPA – The Bulls completed a fourth-quarter comeback over Georgia Tech, outscoring the Yellow Jackets 21-7 in the final frame en route to a 49-38 victory.
USF quarterback Blake Barnett completed 21 of 31 pass attempts for 202 yards and two touchdowns while throwing one interception. He added 91 yards on 16 rushes and two more touchdowns.
“I just wanna do what I can to help this team” Barnett said.
The Bulls struggled to stop Georgia Tech’s triple option offense for much of the game, allowing a total of 602 yards, 419 of which were on the ground. Yellow Jackets quarterback Taquon Marshall led the way with 113 yards and a touchdown before coming out of the game early in the second half. His replacement, back-up quarterback Tobias Oliver, was just as prolific, accruing 97 yards on the ground and crossing the goal line on three straight drives.
It looked like it would be a long afternoon for the Bulls early in the game when defensive back Tariq Carpenter intercepted Barnett on the opening drive. That turnover set up a field goal and an early lead for Georgia Tech. Freshman Terrance Horne delivered a response on the ensuing kickoff, sprinting 98 yards virtually untouched for the score.
Marshall quickly answered for Georgia Tech, scoring on a 45-yard run to make it 10-7. But once again Horne stepped up for the Bulls, bouncing outside and blowing by three defenders while returning the kickoff 99-yards to give his team the lead back.
The teams traded scores and USF went into half-time up 21-17.
Georgia Tech received the kickoff and would score on its first three drives of the second half, all runs by Oliver. USF was able to score once – a 14-yard run by redshirt-freshman Duran Bell Jr. – but the Bulls were staring at a 38-28 deficit with just 14:15 to play and the defense looked incapable of slowing down the Yellow Jackets rushing attack.
Barnett led the Bulls for a quick score on the ensuing drive, capped off by a Horne touchdown catch, his third score of the day, to bring USF within three. But the Georgia Tech continued to roll, led by Marshall who had returned from his injury. After converting on a crucial 3rd and 9, the Yellow Jackets were threatening once again inside the redzone, and with only about eight minutes left, the Bulls needed a stop.
They got that stop in the form of a turnover, a fumble forced by redshirt-freshman Bentlee Sanders and recovered by linebacker Nico Sawtelle. USF cashed in on the takeaway, marching downfield and taking the lead on a 19-yard run by Barnett. The Bulls were up 42-38 with 5:08 left in the game, but they were going to need another stop from their defense.
“That takeaway changed the momentum of the game” Barnett said.
Once again, USF’s D stepped up. Kirk Livingstone pressured Marshall on a 3rd and 20, hitting him as he threw and forcing an errant pass that was easily intercepted by Sawtelle, his second takeaway. Barnett scored his fourth touchdown of the game to cap off the comeback.
“They have a dynamic offense” Sawtelle said. “We need to come together as team unit, break them down and stop them. And we did.”
The Bulls improve to 2-0 and will travel to Chicago on Friday and take on Illinois in their first road game of the season.