Jacksonville Sports Day

USF: Bulls Fall at Memphis in Heartbreaking Fashion, 34-33

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Boosted by a 27-point first half, USF pulled ahead by 13 late in the fourth quarter before Memphis handed the Bulls a heartbreaking 34-33 loss with a late touchdown Saturday at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

Spencer Shrader’s fourth field goal from at least 40 yards out spotted USF (1-6, 0-5 in AAC) a 33-20 advantage with 4:36 to play. Senior Brady White threw two touchdown passes down the stretch as Memphis (4-2, 3-2 in AAC) escaped with a school record 13th consecutive home victory.

Shrader (Lithia, Fla.) had a career day in the kicking game, going 4-for-4 on field goal attempts covering distances of 49, 47, 41 and 46 yards. Shrader became the first USF kicker with four field goals in a game since Emilio Nadelman in 2017 and two of the sophomore’s connections helped the Bulls build a 27-13 halftime lead.

USF also got a strong performance from quarterback Noah Johnson (Tampa) who completed 20 of 29 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns as he went the distance in his first start as a Bull.

Running back Kelley Joiner Jr. (Clermont, Fla.) took a Johnson pass 75 yards for a touchdown in the Bulls’ 24-point surge in the second quarter and had a career high 78 receiving yards on three catches. Freshman back Brian Battie (Sarasota) led all rushers with a career high 76 yards on 10 carries (7.6 ypc).

While the offense caught fire early, cornerback Daquan Evans (Orlando) increased his interception streak to three consecutive games and returned his pick of White for a 51-yard touchdown in the second quarter as USF seized a 13-6 lead.

After making the most of a long bye week, USF roared out of the gates with 24 points in the second quarter and built a 27-13 lead by the break. Johnson pair of TD passes and Evans’s pick-six highlighted the Bulls’ highest scoring first half since a 35-point outburst at ECU on Oct. 26, 2019.

USF’s defense stepped up right away when Antonio Grier (Atlanta) stopped Rodrigues Clark at the line of scrimmage as Memphis went for it on fourth-and-1 from its own 34 on the game’s opening drive. Grier finished with a game-high 10 tackles (seven solo) and the Bulls held Memphis to 0-3 on fourth down in the first half with some big stops.

Shrader gave the Bulls an early lead with a career long 49-yard field goal less than three minutes into the action. It marked USF’s longest field goal since Nadelman’s 51-yarder against UConn in 2017.

Memphis responded with a pair of field goals before Shrader split the uprights again from 47 yards to tie things up at 6-6 in the first minute of the second quarter. USF’s offense converted twice on third-down situations with passes by Johnson on the 11-play, 46-yard scoring drive.

USF went ahead on the ensuing drive when Evans jumped a route and returned an interception 51 yards for a touchdown. Now with four career interceptions, Evans had a 52-yard return on his first pick as a Bull against Memphis last season.

Memphis pulled even again with a 65-yard touchdown pass on the next drive, but the explosive Bulls needed just one offensive play to retake the lead. Johnson found Joiner in the seam with 11:24 remaining in the half and 75 yards later it was Joiner’s first career scoring catch on USF’s longest touchdown pass since Chris Oladokun’s 72-yard connection with Ryeshene Bronson at Cincinnati on Nov. 10, 2018.

Trying to answer back quickly, Memphis got stopped again on fourth down at the USF 36 and the Bulls took advantage. Seven plays later, Johnson capped off a 63-yard series with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Mitchell Brinkman (Council Bluffs, Iowa) that helped extend the advantage to 27-13 with 3:52 to go in the second quarter.

USF preserved the 14-point lead just before the break by stopping Memphis on fourth down for the third time in the half. This time, the Bulls held strong from their own 3 and forced an incomplete pass in the end zone.

Shrader improved to 3-for-3 on field goal attempts with a 41-yarder late in the third quarter that gave the Bulls a 30-20 lead they took into the fourth.

Freshman Tramel Logan (Miami) made a crucial play by stalling a Memphis drive with a sack deep in Tigers territory near the midpoint of the final quarter. Shrader added his fourth field goal of the day from 46 yards out with 4:36 to play.

Memphis cut its deficit to 33-27 with 3:19 remaining and got the ball back again with 2:23 to play and 76 yards from the end zone. White’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Austin in the corner of the endzone and the extra point gave the Tigers the winning margin with 1:03 remaining.

USF made its final push to get into scoring range late, but Joiner’s potential first-down run on fourth-and-7 from the Bulls’ 26 was called short after an official review.

USF wraps up its two-game road trip with another conference test at Houston on Saturday, Nov. 14. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. (TV: ESPN+).

USF NOTES: USF’s 27 points before the break marked the program’s highest scoring first half since a 35-point outburst at ECU on Oct. 26, 2019…Spencer Shrader set a career high with four made field goals, going 4-for-4 with kicks from 49, 47, 41 and 46 yards out. Shrader is the first USF kicker to make four field goals in a game since Emilio Nadelman in 2017…Daquan Evans recorded an interception for the third straight game and returned a Brady White pass 51 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. During his pick streak, Evans has returned intercepted passes for 56, 31 and 51 yards. Evans now has four career interceptions and had a 52-yard return on his first pick as a Bull against Memphis last season….Noah Johnson’s 75-yard scoring strike to Kelley Joiner in the second quarter was USF’s longest touchdown pass since Chris Oladokun’s 72-yard connection with Ryeshene Bronson at Cincinnati in 2018.

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