Barnett's strong debut helps USF beat Elon 34-14
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Blake Barnett may have finally found a football home.
Barnett threw three touchdown passes and ran for a fourth score in his South Florida debut and the Bulls beat Elon 34-14 in Saturday night's season opener.
The 6-foot-5, 217-pounder, the opening-game starter for Alabama two years ago who left the Crimson Tide in September 2016 and continued his career as a backup at Arizona State last season, completed 24 of 34 passes for 305 yards.
"I wouldn't say it's relief," Barnett said. "It's just preparation and time meeting an opportunity. This is the opportunity that I've really been waiting for. I was really ready for it."
Barnett is replacing USF's career total offense leader Quinton Flowers, who threw for 2,911 yards and 25 touchdowns while also rushing for 1,078 yards and 11 TDs last season.
"It's good for his confidence and good for the whole team" USF coach Charlie Strong said. "Tonight is just a start."
Backup Elon quarterback Jalen Greene entered in the third quarter and had a 12-yard rushing TD. Malcolm Summers had 62 yards on 15 carries, while starting QB Davis Cheek went 5 for 11 for 45 yards passing.
Barnett connected with Randall St. Felix on a 40-yard TD pass to cap USF's first possession, then hit St. Felix on a 52-yard completion that set up a 33-yard field goal by Jake Vivonetto for a 10-0 lead.
St. Felix gained 143 yards on seven receptions.
After Elon turned the ball over on its next possession, Barnett hit Tyre McCants for a 16-yard touchdown then connected with Mitchell Wilcox on a 14-yarder for a 24-0 halftime lead. Barnett added a 2-yard rushing score midway through the third quarter.
Greene scored late in the third before Brelynd Cyphers' 2-yard scoring run with 13 minutes left cut the Elon deficit to 31-14.
"We've got to learn how to finish," Strong said.
South Florida outgained Elon 515-234.
Elon: The Phoenix dropped to 0-11 all-time against FBS opponents.
South Florida: The defense continued its opportunistic nature with two interceptions. The Bulls were ranked second nationally last season with 20 picks.
Elon: Has its home opener next Saturday against Furman, which lost 48-7 to No. 2 Clemson on Saturday.
South Florida: Entered the season unranked after finishing No. 21 in last year's final Associated Press poll and will face Power-5 opponent Georgia Tech at home next Saturday. Georgia Tech had a season-opening 41-0 win Saturday over Alcorn State. "Next week is going to be a big-time challenge for us," Strong said. Bulls RB Jordan Cronkrite, a transfer from Florida, sat out with an undisclosed injury but is expected to play next weekend.