Saturday, September 15, 2018

Green's five things to take away from South Florida's 25-19 win over Illinois

Photo Credit: Robin Alam- Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen

On a sunny day in Chicago, the South Florida Bulls (3-0) produced their second straight fourth-quarter comeback in as many weeks with a 25-19 win over the Illinois Fighting Illini (2-1) on Saturday. Here are my five things to take away from South Florida’s win.

1) Comeback kids:

The South Florida Bulls are no stranger to adversity as they came from 10 points back to defeat Georgia Tech, 49-38 on Sept. 8. Saturday’s game proved to be another hurdle as USF came from 12 points down in the fourth quarter in the six-point win over Illinois.

A touchdown reception by wide receiver Darnel Salomon off a rollout pass by Blake Barnett seven seconds into the final stanza, which helped kickstart the run. Coby Weiss’ 26-yard FG pulled the Bulls to within two at 19-17 with 7:47 left, which could have been viewed at the time as USF coach Charlie Strong having confidence in getting the ball back again with a chance to go ahead.

The chance became reality after Illinois punted on fourth down with 3:41 left and ample opportunities for USF’s up-tempo offense to produce. Despite a pair of false starts, which threatened to destroy the Bulls’ drive at third-and-20, the Illini secondary fell asleep on coverage and Barnett took advantage and found an open Salomon for a 50-yard touchdown to go ahead for the first time in the game. USF added a two-point conversion as it hung on for the six-point victory.

“It was similar to last week, where we put ourselves in that position where we had to make something happen,” Bulls quarterback Blake Barnett said. “We tried to put the [Illinois] safety in a bide and [Salomon] has some wheels like all of our receivers and was able to get over the top to bring it in.”

2) USF penalties:

After committing five penalties against Georgia Tech, South Florida racked up 14 on 124 yards, with the majority of the calls resulting in lost scoring opportunities as Illinois took advantage on offense for the first three quarters.

The apex of the penalties came with 7:39 left in the third quarter on what appeared to be a made 35-yard field goal from Coby Weiss, but called back because of a false start, which ended up being a re-kick and a 40-yard miss.

Strong knew that USF did not come out prepared and can’t afford another lackluster showing as AAC play begins against East Carolina on Sept. 22 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

“We were not prepared to play or be focused. The first two games, we didn’t have many and we get into this game and had too many,” Strong said. “Stopping drives and throwing interceptions and were not able to stop the run, along with being outside of our gaps. This is a lesson well learned and a good thing that we came away with the victory.”

3) Fast start by the Illini stalled in the second half:

Despite falling short to the Bulls, one of the critical issues the Illinois Fighting Illini endured was their inability to score in the first half with a combined three points in the first two games. That issue would be corrected against South Florida with 16 points in the first half, highlighted by three made field goals from Chase McLaughlin.

The momentum could not be sustained in the second half as the Illini scored a field goal and to add insult to injury, quarterback MJ Rivers would be sacked three times on the game’s final possession.

The Illini have yet to put together a complete game despite their 2-1 start and things will not get any easier with a night game against the Penn State Nittany Lions on Sept. 21.

4) Illinois’ run game on fire:

With 200-plus yard outings against Kent State and Western Illinois, Illinois continued its dazzling display on the ground with 212, led by Mike Epstein’s 113, highlighted by a 43-yard TD run in the second quarter.

Reggie Corbin provided stability as a change of pace running back with 98 yards on 12 carries and will play a big part in whether Illinois can produce some wins in Big Ten conference play as Penn State comes calling.

5) Chase the clouds away:

Placekicker Chase McLaughlin has become one of the focal points for Illinois with 7-of-9 field goal makes this season and went 4-of-4, highlighted by a 53-yard conversion.

The 53-yard FG came as the first half expired with plenty of room to spare, which put the Illini at a 16-7 advantage on the Bulls. McLaughlin’s leg could be relied upon to possibly keep Illinois in some games in conference play.

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