South Florida reveled in the national spotlight last Saturday. In year one at the helm, Alex Golesh’s Bulls gave the Nick Saban Alabama dynasty all it could handle, refusing to give the Crimson Tide any semblance of separation until the late fourth quarter.
A 17-3 defeat is still a defeat, but the confidence it instilled in this South Florida squad certainly showed in the follow-up act. The Bulls took the field at Raymond James Stadium once again for their conference opener against the AAC newcomer Rice Owls. And thanks to an explosive second half from Byrum Brown and the offense, the Bulls charged past Rice in convincing, 42-29 fashion.
For a program that had fallen on hard times in the last five years, Saturday was a refreshing scene. It marked the Bulls’ second FBS victory in the past 1,427 days — a streak dating back to October 2019. The 13-point victory also snapped an 18-game losing skid to FBS opponents, which was the longest in the country.
While the defense drew the headlines for its stellar outing against Alabama, it was Brown’s dynamic playmaking which catapulted the Bulls to 1-0 in the conference standings. In just his sixth collegiate start, the young quarterback fired for a career-high 435 yards when his previous personal best was 240. The FBS’s leading rusher from the quarterback position added 82 yards with his mobility, and he accounted for three total touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) in the win.
Trailing 21-20 in the third quarter, Brown rewrote the script of the game immediately after South Florida’s defense forced an opportune turnover on downs. The quarterback connected with Naime Simmons for a 49-yard touchdown to secure a 27-21 advantage. From that point on, the defense and offense continued to complement each other through the final whistle.
Simmons enjoyed an unforgettable performance himself, too, shredding Rice’s secondary with 272 yards in the top individual performances by a receiver this season and the best in South Florida program history. The junior caught five receptions exceeding 40 yards, including a key 52-yard pickup at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Two plays later, Brown added a cushion to the lead with a touchdown strike to Sean Atkins.
Rice held strong for three quarters in its first-ever AAC game, thanks to an aerial attack led by transfer quarterback JT Daniels. The former 5-star quarterback’s stat-line nearly mirrored that of Brown’s through the air, attaining 432 yards and three touchdowns without throwing an interception. Daniels got the Owls the first touchdown of the contest and then led a stellar drive right before halftime to provide his team a 14-13 lead going into the break. Wide receiver Luke McCaffrey was overwhelming for the Bulls’ defense at times, collecting a career-high 199 receiving yards on nine catches in the pass-happy shootout.
Although things eventually went bleak for the Owls in the late third quarter, the team enjoyed a massive momentum swing earlier in the period. South Florida fumbled into the end zone on a 4th and goal attempt, setting Rice at its own 20-yard line with a touchback. Rather than going down two scores, the Owls utilized that sequence to capture a 21-20 lead. On the first play after the fumble, Daniels sailed a pass to running back Dean Connors on a wheel route for an 80-yard go-ahead touchdown.
But the difference which positioned South Florida in front for the remainder of the contest was the run game. Rice’s leading rusher was Juma Otoviano with 12 yards on four carries and the team collectively attained one rushing yard, thanks to four sacks and 11 tackles for loss by a relentless South Florida front. Meanwhile Brown extended plenty of plays with his feet and received a nice boost from running back K’wan Powell to keep the ball moving in a variety of ways.
South Florida (2-2, 1-0 AAC) is off to a 1-0 start in AAC play for the first time since 2018, hoping to build on the tremendous momentum established in Tampa over the past two weeks. Next Saturday, the Bulls finally leave Raymond James Stadium for the first time since Week 1 to battle Navy in Annapolis.
Meanwhile, Rice (2-2, 0-1 AAC) — two weeks removed from a landmark win over Houston — is back to the drawing board after allowing its most points it had all season. The Owls return home to face East Carolina next week, aiming to sustain its unbeaten record at Rice Stadium in 2023.