TAMPA, Fla. — Friday’s War on I-4 showdown was much like the 2017 epic – and even more explosive - as USF’s offense erupted for season-best 646 yards in another shootout for the ages that ended with UCF on the winning end of a 58-46 score at Raymond James Stadium.
In a rivalry game that featured a combined 1,223 yards and 104 points, both series records, USF (1-8, 0-7 in AAC) produced the sixth-most yards in school history, just 7 yards shy out the Bulls’ output in the 2017 clash with the Knights (6-3, 5-3 in AAC) in Orlando.
Friday’s 4-hour, 13-minute marathon actually resulted in more combined yards and points than the totals of the memorable 2017 USF-UCF clash in Orlando (1,186 yards, 91 points) that the Knight’s claimed, 49-42. USF also matched the program’s FBS record with 38 first downs in the 12th edition of the War on I-4 series that now stands tied, 6-6.
Down by 17 points in the fourth quarter, rallying USF got within seven of UCF with 10:10 to play in the 2020 thriller. The Bulls had the ball and an opportunity to tie it up, but a lost fumble at their own 40 with 9:01 to play that spoiled USF’s valiant comeback attempt in their 2020 season finale.
Quarterback Jordan McCloud (Tampa) tied former USF great Matt Grothe for the third-most completions in school history with 32 on 46 attempts for a career-high 404 yards and four touchdowns. McCloud’s passing yardage total was the fourth-highest in USF game history and it marked the 13th time any Bull has thrown for at least four touchdowns and first since Quinton Flowers did so in the 2017 Birmingham Bowl.
McCloud had a hand in five touchdowns, also using his legs on a 3-yard scoring run during USF’s 32-point second half.
Running backs Kelley Joiner Jr. and Brian Battie rushed for 116 and 102 yards, respectively, to become the first Bulls duo to each record at least 100 yards since Johnny Ford (164) and Jordan Cronkrite (103) against UConn on Oct. 20, 2018.
Joiner (Clermont, Fla.) averaged 8.3 yards on 14 attempts in a game USF rushed for 242 yards (5.3 ypc) and outgained UCF, 646-577, in total yards.
Battie (Sarasota) averaged 6.8 yards on 15 carries and his 1-yard touchdown run helped the Bulls drop their deficit to 45-38 with 10:10 remaining. Battie finished with a career-high 160 all-purpose yards after returning two kickoffs for 53 yards.
Junior Bryce Miller (St. Petersburg, Fla.) produced USF’s first 100-yard receiving game since Sept. 14, 2019, with 121 yards on a career-high 11 catches, just one shy of Andre Davis’ program record against Nevada in 2012. Miller also set a career-high with two touchdown receptions, including USF’s final score in the closing seconds on a 19-yard play that was followed up by McCloud’s two-point conversion run.
Honored on Senior Day, DeVontres Odoms-Dukes (Tampa) set career highs with five receptions for 66 yards and two touchdowns. The Tampa native had a 14-yard touchdown in the second half and started the scoring on a 23-yard reception in the first quarter.
Prior to the explosive comeback attempt, McCloud completed 18 of 28 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns during USF’s 306-yard first half that saw UCF score 28 straight points and build a 31-14 advantage.
Rashawn Yates’ first sack of the season helped stall UCF’s first drive and the Bulls jumped ahead with a 23-yard touchdown reception by Odoms-Dukes near the midpoint of the opening quarter. McCloud completed three passes for 54 yards on the seven-play, 80-yard sequence that took 1:54 off the clock. Joiner also helped USF zoom downfield with three rushes for 31 yards on the drive and had 61 yards on six attempts in the first half.
After USF struck first, UCF’s offense heated up with three straight touchdown drives and scored 28 straight points. McCloud’s 5-yard scoring pass to Miller halted the Knights’ run with 2:29 remaining in the half. Miller already reached a new career-high in catches by the break with six for 43 yards.
USF’s defense forced two straight punts to start the second half and the Bulls used the ground game to cut their deficit to 31-21 midway through the third quarter. McCloud’s 3-yard touchdown run capped off a nine-play, 90-yard drive that featured 71 rushing yards. Battie followed up a 30-yard run with a 23-yarder down to the UCF 3 on the Bulls’ second 90-plus yard scoring drive of the season.
USF got within 10 again on McCloud’s second TD toss Odoms-Dukes, this time from 14 yards out, with 2:19 remaining in the third quarter. A failed onside kick after the score by Odoms-Dukes set UCF at the Bulls’ 45 and the Knights needed just four plays to extend their lead to 45-28 with 1:13 left in the third quarter.
No-quit USF answered back soon after with a 30-yard field goal by Jared Sackett (Fort Worth, Texas) less than three minutes in the final period that sparked an 18-point outburst by the Bulls.
The comeback continued with junior linebacker Dwayne Boyles’ first career interception with 11:07 remaining at the UCF 48. Battie then added to his career day with a 22-yard run and McCloud’s 25-yard pass to Latrell Williams (Lake City, Fla.) set up Battie’s 1-yard scoring run that helped drop the Bulls’ deficit to 45-38 with 10:10 to play.
USF’s defense came up big again by forcing a UCF punt on the ensuing drive that put the Bulls in prime field position at their own 37 with 9:10 remaining. Momentum shifted on the next play, however, with the Knights recovering a fumble at the USF 40.
USF’s second turnover proved costly, as UCF extended its lead to 52-38 on Greg McCrae’s 20-yard touchdown run with 6:34 remaining.
With UCF ahead, 58-38, USF’s offense put the finishing touchdowns on a stellar performance in the final seconds. McCloud followed up his fourth touchdown pass, a 19-yarder to Miller with 14 seconds remaining, with a successful two-point conversion run.
In addition to all the offensive fireworks, Boyles led the defense with a career-high 13 tackles – the most by any player in the game – and had two tackles for loss along with his clutch interception during the second-half rally.
Junior linebacker Andrew Mims (St. Johns, Fla.) finished with 11 tackles after a highly productive first half when he totaled all of his stops (seven solo), a sack and two tackles for loss.