Barnett Dazzles in Debut as Bulls Roll Over Elon in Season Opener

By on September 2, 2018


Blake Barnett Celebrates His Scamper into the End Zone (Photo-Travis Failey)

By Taylor Jenkins

The question for USF football fans all offseason was what the team would do at the quarterback position.

USF initially had a battle raging between veteran Brett Kean and sophomore Chris Oladokun, but when the former five-star recruit Blake Barnett joined the team as a grad transfer from Arizona State, everything changed.

Blake Barnett completes his first pass from scrimmage as a Bull (Photo-Travis Failey)

First-team reps seemed divided for much of the fall camp and fans remained in limbo until just days a few days ago when second-year head coach, Charlie Strong, named Barnett the starter.

“When we made the decision to go with Blake it was based just on consistency, where he had been the most consistent in camp,” said Strong. “Some days he didn’t always play at the level you’d expect him to play, but he played good enough. So when we made that decision it was just like, ‘Hey, let’s go with him. He’s probably the one that can go get it done, so everybody in favor? Let’s go.’”

The decision was made, but that isn’t the end of it. As we’ve seen so many times in football at any level, you don’t know what you’ve got until you see it under the lights when it matters, and Barnett wasted no time showing off why he was brought in.

USF’s first drive of the game went five plays, it took a minute and 15 seconds and was capped off by a 40-yard touchdown pass to Randall St. Felix. The drive was too quick to even tweet the first four individual plays.

St. Felix splits the defenders for a grab before the big TD from Blake Barnett (Photo-Travis Failey)

Celebrating the first TD of the season for Barnett, St. Felix and the USF Bulls (Photo-Travis Failey)

USF’s second drive went just three yards before they were forced to punt, their third drive went 68 yards and gained them three points on a 33-yard field goal from rookie kicker Jake Vivonetto, and then Barnett and the Bulls’ offense woke back up.

Following an interception by USF defensive back, Mike Hampton, the Bulls started their drive just outside of the Elon red zone at the 25-yard line and took only two plays to reach pay dirt.

Hampton with the pick for the Bulls (Photo-Travis Failey)

6 Pack of Bulls Celebrate After the Pick (Photo-Travis Failey)

Barnett started the drive with a nine-yard scramble and then dumped a screen pass off to his star wideout,Tyre McCants, who muscled his way through multiple tacklers and into the end zone.

(Photo-Travis Failey)

The next time the Bulls got the ball they began methodical. They ran the ball for no gain and then three more times for eight, four and three yards respectively. They were pushed backwards by a false start penalty in the middle and backed up on 2nd and 12 when Barnett let it loose again, hitting Darnell Salomon in stride for a 50-yard gain.

Darnell Saloman getting air after catching a rope from Barnett (Photo-Travis Failey)

The pass was Barnett’s third 40+ yard completion of the night, but Barnett wasn’t done.

Three plays later he found a wide open Mitch Wilcox in the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown, his third passing touchdown of the night.

Wilcox is off to a fast start with his first half TD (Photo-Travis Failey)

(Photo-Travis Failey)

(Photo-Travis Failey)

“He’s extremely capable and he showed that tonight,” said Wilcox. “Coming in, his first game, he did a lot of good things for us and he dished out the ball. . . He’s only going up from there.There’s a lot of upside from him and having that confidence building over time, he’s going to be really good for us.”

Barnett finished the half with 14 completions on 20 attempts with 223 passing yards and three passing touchdowns. In the third quarter he added another 72 passing yards and a touchdown on the ground before being pulled for the backup tandem of Brett Kean and Chris Oladokun.

Barnett’s final line: 24 for 34 for 305 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and 31 rushing yards on eight carries with a rushing touchdown.

“It meant a lot. It’s been a long time coming, a really long time,” said Barnett. “It’s been a long journey, it’s been a process. Being able to play out there and play with these guys that I truly, truly care about and being able to look up from the field and see my baby up there… it’s pretty cool.”

In the fourth quarter Kean and Oladokun battled it out, trading off series while neither truly stood out.

The second stringers were in, Elon put a few points on the board and the clock finally ran down. USF took the victory 34-14 – which is always the main goal – but for fans, the book they’ve been dying to read was now written.

The Bulls D got ran on a bit but made big tackles in key spots (Photo-Travis Failey)

The Bulls D swarms to tackle Malcolm Summers who finished with 62 yards for Elon (Photo-Travis Failey)

If tonight was any indication, USF has solved their quarterback dilemma and unless Barnett is completely derailed, he’ll be the leader going forward.

At the halfback position both Jordan Cronkrite and Duran Bell Jr. were held out of tonight’s contest with what appeared to be minor injuries. In his post-game press conference Strong mentioned that Cronkrite could have probably played tonight, but that he was held out as a precautionary measure and both backs should be available for next week.

Now USF must prepare to face Georgia Tech at home next Saturday, September 8th, as they kick off their first Power 5 matchup of the year. The game will be begin at noon on ABC.

“The good thing is, we have them at home next week,” said Strong. “And I think our players, as they should be, are excited about it. We have a very good football team coming in.”

More Photos From the Game:

USF’s Ryeshene Bronson awaits a monster hit (Photo-Travis Failey)

(Photo-Travis Failey)

Ryeshene Bronson takes the hit and limps off but would return ( Photo-Travis Failey )

( Photo-Travis Failey )

( Photo-Travis Failey )

Mitch Wilcox breaking tackles ( Photo-Travis Failey )

( Photo-Travis Failey )

( Photo-Travis Failey )

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