BULLS : AFTER THE DUST SETTLES : ILLINOIS
By Leo Haggerty
Sometimes, as a member of the media, you regret it when you’re right. Well, I hate to say I told you so but I told you so.
The Bulls ran into an emotionally charged Illinois team that was totally focused on turning the tables from last year’s drubbing. Their sole goal was to come away with a victory at historic Soldier Field in Chicago and HC Lovie Smith’s charges damn near did.
It took some last minute heroic by QB Blake Barnett to salvage a 25-19 victory in a contest where the Green & Gold never led until the last 2:24 of the tilt. That’s when #11 found WR Darnell Solomon on a third-and-20 behind the secondary for the 50-yard winning TD strike.
There was still some excitement left as Illinois, after the ensuing kickoff, ran off 14 plays and advanced to the South Florida 25-yard line. Fortunately for the Bulls, Illini QB M.J. Rivers pass to WR Ricky Smalling was caught but a couple yards out of bounds as time expired.
When it comes to the statistics, the Bulls dominated the Illini. South Florida led in first downs (31 to 21), rushing yards (215 to 212) and passing yards (411 to 168).
So why was this even a close game? Three very specific reasons.
First, USF had 14 penalties for 124 yards as opposed to Illinois who were flagged six times for 66 yards. A lot of those infractions came at pivitol times that either extended Illini drives or short circuited South Florida ones.
Second, the Green & Gold only converted 4-of-13 third down situations. That meant that the Bulls came up short a baker’s dozen times and that’s not conducive to winning football games.
Finally, South Florida had two turnovers and both of the interception variety. Both of them led to six points on 46 and 53-yard field goals by Navy Blue & Orange placekicker Chase McLaughlin.
Hopefully, the Bulls learned a very worthwhile lesson. Just because you beat someone badly last year doesn’t guarantee the same outcome this year.
The good news is that teachable moment didn’t come after a loss. That would have been really painful.
So it’s back home against a hurricaned-out East Carolina squad on Saturday. Let’s hope it’s lesson learned.