Tech stifles late USF comeback en route to 14-10 victory

Photo courtesy of Taylor Gray, Student Publications

No, USF did not score two kick return touchdowns. No, the Bulls did not manufacture a miraculous fourth-quarter comeback – though they came close! And no, Blake Barnett did not look like Tom Brady in Super Bowl LI.

In other words, the Jackets exorcised their green-and-gold demons.

After allowing a humiliating comeback to USF last year, Tech finally grabbed the Bulls by the horns and held on to beat South Florida, 14-10. Tech’s offense – juggling quarterbacks for most of the game, with James Graham, Lucas Johnson, and Tobias Oliver all taking snaps from the position – arguably underperformed against one of the worst defenses in the country, a USF unit that has averaged 38.6 points per game now dating back to October 27, 2018. Tech’s key to victory was their defense, which held the Bulls to just 262 yards.

Bulls’ special teams can’t get a grip

It was USF’s special teams that kept them in last year’s matchup against GT, as Terrance Horne ripped off two kickoff-return touchdowns – but with Horne evidently still not operating at full capacity, the Bulls’ returning unit looked lost. Bentlee Sanders had a game to forget, as he averaged just 3 yards on punt returns, fumbling twice. On top of that, an illegal substitution penalty for USF’s punt-return unit in the fourth quarter wiped away a third-and-out forced by USF’s defense. Horne did take the field but saw only one kick return and one 14-yard reception.

Oliver does it all

Oliver made a name for himself last year as TaQuon Marshall’s backup, starting several games and showing off his wheels – and incidentally, his first serious action at QB came against USF. While it was Johnson and Graham who saw most snaps for Tech at QB, Oliver still found his way onto the field. The red-shirt sophomore took snaps at both QB and at running back, and even returned the opening kick-off. Oliver recorded 48 yards rushing, 11 yards passing, and 16 yards returning, with a rushing touchdown to boot.

Tech defense stifles

The Jackets’ defensive unit had shown flashes of brilliance against Clemson, despite being overmatched. Those glimpses turned into one of the best Tech defensive performances of the past three years, as Tech held the Bulls to just 262 yards, the fewest yards allowed since Tech’s season opener against Alcorn State a year ago. QB Blake Barnett was rendered largely ineffective, going 12 for 20 with 79 yards with no touchdowns, leading to backup Jordan McCloud seeing a significant number of snaps later in the game. Tech recorded four sacks and held the Bulls to just a 26.7% third-down conversion rate.

“Above The Line” philosophy on full display

Postgame, Geoff Collins emphasized his “Above The Line” or “ATL” philosophy: “The reason guys practice so much is because of what happened today… we were able to stay fresh because we were rolling guys [out] the entire day.” Tech lost two offensive-lineman early in the game to injury, and Collins credited “ATL” with ensuring that his depth at the position was not hurt badly. A casualty of this philosophy, however, appeared to be kicker Wesley Wells – Wells did not take the field today, with Brenton King kicking in his place. Collins indicated that Wells – Tech’s primary kicker since last season, who has not missed a kick in his college career – was outperformed at practice by King, and thus King got the start.