TAMPA (Florida Sports Wire) – The USF Football team (2-2; 1-0 AAC) used an explosive offense and aggressive defense to open its 11th season of American Athletic Conference play with a 42-29 victory over Rice (2-2; 0-1 AAC) Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.
USF recorded its first conference opening win in five seasons behind huge offensive performances by quarterback Byrum Brown and wide receiver Naeim Simmons. Defensively, 10 players recorded a tackle for loss, as the Bulls posted their second game of the year with double-digit tackles for loss and held Rice to 1 yard rushing, the lowest total for a USF opponent since 2017.
Brown posted a career-high 435 yards passing, finishing 22-of-29 with two touchdowns and added 82 yards rushing and a touchdown to post the second-highest passing and total offense (517 yards) marks in program history. Simmons posted a career-best eight catches and 272 receiving yards breaking the school record set by Tyre McCants with 227 yards at UCF in 2017. DJ Gordon led the Bulls’ defensive effort with six tackles, 1.5 sacks and 2.0 tackles for loss.
The teams went to half time with Rice leading 14-13 after a late score, but the Bulls pulled away late in the third quarter posting touchdown drives on three straight possessions.
The Bulls struck first in the game, going 62 yards in 12 plays for a field goal.
Rice responded with quarterback JT Daniels marching down the field with a big 47-yard pass that got the Owls to the 10-yard line. Daniels threw a 3-yard touchdown to take the lead 7-3 lead.
A 29-yard run by Brown sparked the Bulls on their next possession. Brown then hit Sean Atkins for two back-to-back receptions to get the Bulls to the 22. With an incomplete pass on 2nd-and-three and no gain on 3rd down, the Bulls were forced to kick a field goal, making the score 6-7.
On the next possession, Daniels took the Owls down to the two-yard line. The USF defense remained aggressive, Tramel Logan got a 3-yard tackle for loss and an 11-yard sack by Jonathan Ross forced the Owls to kick a field goal. The kick went wide left, keeping the score 6-7.
USF was forced to punt on its next position. The Owls managed to drive to the USF22 but couldn’t convert a first down. Rice missed the 40-yard field goal attempt keeping the score 6-7.
The Bulls capitalized on the missed field goal with a 53-yard bomb from Brown to Simmons placing them on the RU45. On 2nd-and-19, Brown handed the ball off to K’wan Powell for a 26-yard scamper for a touchdown giving the Bulls the lead 13-7 with 1:35 left in the first half.
With 1:35 left in the half, Daniels moved Rice down the field in 10 plays going 70 yards for a 2-yard touchdown pass and a 14-13 lead at the half.
To open the second half, Brown threw a 51-yard dime to Simmons who sprinted down to the RU24. A 19-yard scramble from Brown on the next play set him up for a 1-yard touchdown to take the lead back, 20-14.
The Owls were forced to punt and the Bulls offense continued their momentum with a 59-yard bomb from Brown to wideout Khafre Brown, who made a one-handed snag and raced to the RU7. On 1st-and-two at the two-yard line, Nay’Quan Wright made an extra effort to score but fumbled the ball in the end zone. Rice recovered and averted a deeper deficit.
The Owls took advantage of the touchback when Daniels threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to take back the lead 21-20 with 7:53 left in the third quarter.
Refusing to hang their heads, Brown took the USF offense back on the field and found Simmons for a wide open 43-yard pass taking the Bulls on the RU39. But the Owls held up from there and forced USF to punt with 5:48 left in the third quarter.
After the Bulls defense forced Rice to punt, Simmons walked in the end zone with a 49-yard dime from Brown to give USF a 27-21 lead.
To start the fourth quarter, the Brown to Simmons connection remained unstoppable with another 52-yard-deep pass. On the next play, Brown found Atkins for an 8-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 34-21.
Brown marched the Bulls down the field going 57 yards in nine plays and scoring with a 1-yard rushing touchdown from Wright extending the lead 42-21.