SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Few road venues had been as kind to the University of South Florida as the Carrier Dome, and the Bulls once again were able to find comfort in Syracuse's home stadium to break out of the worst losing streak in program history.
Running back Demetris Murray scored two of the Bulls four rushing touchdowns, quarterback B.J. Daniels accounted for 371 yards of total offense and the USF defense came up with some big stops in the fourth quarter in a 37-17 victory Friday night in front of a nationally televised audience and an announced crowd of 41,582.
The victory snapped USF's four-game losing streak, improved the team's overall record at the Carrier Dome to 4-0 and gave the Bulls (5-4, 1-4) their first victory in Big East Conference play. More importantly, it moved USF one step closer of keeping alive the program's streak of reaching a bowl game.
The Bulls (5-4, 1-4 Big East) need to manage one victory over their final three games – against Miami, Louisville and West Virginia, all of which will be at Raymond James Stadium – to become eligible for the postseason. That was far from the minds of the Bulls immediately after the game, though, considering they were getting the chance to celebrate a win for the first time in 48 days.
"It feels great just to get a team victory. It's just great to win, finally. It's been a while," said Murray, who ran for 53 of his 86 yards and both touchdowns in the fourth quarter to help USF put the game away. "I haven't heard the fight song sung like that since Vero Beach last year."
Bulls coach Skip Holtz was singing the praises of plenty of his players after the game, but perhaps no one as much as Daniels. The Bulls quarterback completed 23 of 34 passes for 254 yards and rushed for a game-high 117 yards and a touchdown. Daniels also played mistake-free football while guiding the offense to scores on seven of 12 possessions.
"B.J. Daniels played, I think, an excellent football game," Holtz said. "I think he is really maturing as a quarterback. He is no longer just an athlete that plays quarterback. He is truly becoming an athletic quarterback that can stand in that pocket. He's a quarterback that's a great athlete."
But it wasn't just Daniels who played well. The offensive line continued its strong run this season, paving the way for a ground attack that racked up 236 total yards against a Syracuse defense that entered as the Big East's best against the run in league play. And there was Murray, who was leaned on much more with starter Darrell Scott sidelined because of injuries, and third-stringer Marcus Shaw, also pressed into a bigger role.
That entire group came up crucial on USF's first touchdown drive of the game, one that really seemed to set the tone of the night.
USF led 3-0 early in the second quarter when the Bulls were facing a fourth-and-2 at the Syracuse 5-yard line. Rather than send his field goal unit on, Holtz decided to stick with the offense. Murray plunged ahead for 2 yards on the play to give USF a fresh set of downs, and Shaw followed on the next play with a 3-yard burst up the middle to put the Bulls ahead 10-0 with 10:51 to play in the opening half.
"I'm sitting there going, you know, we kick a field goal and it's 6-0, and they throw one deep pass and we're losing. We'd driven the lenght of the field twice. I felt like, as they say, when you work that hard you've got to get paid. You've got to get paid, we've got to get some points out of this, and I didn't think three was what we were looking to settle for."
USF took a 20-10 lead into halftime, with the offense producing two scores in the final 3:27 of the half, and the Bulls led 23-10 after three quarters of play, and that's when the defense came up with two huge stops.
Syracuse (5-5, 1-4) began the fourth quarter with a first-and-goal at the USF 7 and had second-and-goal at the 2, but the Bulls defense dropped came up with a negative-yardage play, benefitted from a dropped pass on third down and pressured Syracuse qaurterback Ryan Nassib into an incompletion on fourth down to get a stop.
It was a similar situation on the next drive for the Orange. Working on a short field, Syracuse drove into the red zone and had a first down at the USF 14. After a short pass, an incompletion and a penalty, the Orange were forced into third-and-long. The Bulls again forced Nassib into an incompletion on third down, and watched Syracuse receiver Alec Lemon, who had a career game with 10 receptions for 179 yards and two scores, drop a potential touchdown on fourth down for a second stop.
"That was huge," defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. "I thought our defense rose up when it had to rise up."
From that point, USF went back to work behind its offensive line. The Bulls marched 83 yards in nine plays, with Murray capping the drive with a 2-yard scoring run that put the Bulls ahead 30-10 with 5:19 to play. Syracuse responded with a quick score, but the Bulls were there to answer again. After recovering the onsides kick USF marched 46 yards in six plays, with Murray again scoring, this time on an 8-yard run with 1:01 left to make it a 37-17 game.
"We were able to execute when we needed to and drive the ball, and get touchdowns, when we really needed to, when it really counted," center Chaz Hine said. "I can't say enough about that."
It was the type of all-around performance the Bulls had been waiting for, and it's one that gives them some positive momentum entering the final three-game regular season stretch at home.
"Kind of one of our battle cries was when we're tired of losing we will start to win," Holtz said. "When we're tired of making the mistakes and turning the ball over and lost yardage plays and missed assignments, giving up cheap points, things like that, special teams. When we're tired of making these mistakes and we decide that we want to be a good football team we can be. ... It was a great win."
Bulls again home in dome in first league win
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