Freshman Ryeshene Bronson hauled in a 75-yard touchdown catch and sophomore Lamar Robbins returned an interception 46 yards for a score in USF’s 49-17 loss to NC State before a crowd of 27,269 at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
NC State (3-0) scored on five of its first seven drives on the way to grabbing a 35-7 halftime lead. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett completed 20 of 29 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns, while Bra’Lon Cherry rushed for two touchdowns and added a scoring reception.
“We didn’t play well enough to beat a good football team,” head coach Willie Taggart said. “They got after us, especially in the trenches on both sides of the ball, and I thought that was a big difference in the football game.”
USF (1-2) was forced to punt on the game’s first drive and NC State grabbed a 7-0 lead with an 88-yard drive on its first possession. Brissett connected with Bo Hines for a 42-yard gain that got the Wolfpack to the USF 30 and Cherry capped off the seven-play drive with a 17-yard touchdown run with 9:20 remaining in the opening quarter.
The Bulls bounced back in a big way on the first play of their second drive when sophomore Mike White (Fort Lauderdale) threw a career-long, 75-yard touchdown pass to Bronson. It marked the first-career touchdown for Bronson, who was a four-star recruit out of Dunbar High School in Fort Myers.
“He’s another one of our freshmen that we think is really talented and can help our football team. He showed that today,” Taggart said.
Chris Dunkley’s 80-yard punt return for a touchdown, which would have given the Bulls the lead, was wiped out by a holding call on USF’s third possession before NC State regained the lead late in the first quarter. Brissett rushed for two first downs on the 12-play, 79-yard drive and the former Florida Gator threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Cherry with 1:32 remaining in the quarter for a 14-7 lead.
NC State was back in the end zone four plays later after coming up with a turnover deep in USF territory. Defensive tackle Thomas Teal forced a fumble while sacking White, who appeared to be throwing the ball when hit, that was recovered by Brandon Pittman at the USF 19. Cherry scored his third touchdown with a 3-yard run that helped NC State grab a 21-7 lead with 14:16 to go before halftime.
The Wolfpack extended their lead to 28-7 with a 3-yard scoring run Jaylen Samuels with 9:44 remaining in the second quarter. Brissett posted his second touchdown pass of the half when he found Tony Creecy from 8 yards out with 2:20 remaining.
NC State’s offense scored twice more in the second half before the Bulls scored 10 unanswered points thanks to heads-up plays on special teams and defense.
USF’s special teams stepped up midway through the third quarter when the Wolfpack muffed a 56-yard punt by Mattias Ciabatti (Tampa) that was recovered by Rahmon Swain (Lithonia, Ga.) at the NC State 26-yard line. Senior Marvin Kloss (Naples, Fla.) cut the deficit to 49-10 with a 43-yard field goal with 5:19 remaining in the quarter. Kloss, a Groza Award Watch List member, is now 5-for-6 in field goal attempts and 2-for-3 on attempts from 40-plus yards this season.
USF cut the deficit even more when Robbins (Miami) stepped in front of Garrett Leatham’s pass and returned an interception 46 yards for a touchdown with 39 seconds remaining in the third quarter. It marked the second interception of Robbins’ career and the second touchdown scored by the USF defense this season. The Bulls have scored five touchdowns on defense in a little more than a season under defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan.
And while young players like Bronson and Robbins produced for the Bulls, Taggart got a chance to give freshman quarterback Quinton Flowers some playing time. The former Miami Jackson High School standout completed 1 of 4 passes for 7 yards and added 32 rushing yards on six attempts.
“I wanted to see Quintin come in there and see if he can give us something,” Taggart said.
The Bulls begin American Athletic Conference play Friday, Sept. 19 against UConn back at Raymond James Stadium. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. and the game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.