TAMPA - On a steamy Saturday night, the University of South Florida Bulls were forced to sweat.
By game's end, the scoreboard looked about right — USF had a 34-13 season-opening victory against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs — but it came with nervous moments for the 41,285 fans at Raymond James Stadium.
Bulls coach Skip Holtz didn't seem to mind.
"Our goal tonight was to be 1-0," Holtz said. "Fifty percent of the country would change records with us right now."
Holtz admitted he was not pleased with the overall offensive effort, particularly the "discipline and organization."
Meanwhile, Holtz said USF senior quarterback B.J. Daniels showed "flashes of brilliance," going 17 of 26 for 225 yards and three touchdowns, along with a highlight-reel 20-yard scoring run. Daniels also committed two turnovers, accounting for 10 Chattanooga points, including a bad read that led to a late first-half deep-route interception, termed a "critical error" by USF offensive coordinator Todd Fitch.
"We're going to be in a lot of tight games this year and we can't have that," Fitch said. "He went away from the side he wanted to go to. He tried to make a play. He tried to force something out there."
On the positive side, Holtz was elated with USF's defensive front seven, saying it "played a large part of the night in UTC's backfield." The Bulls limited the Mocs to 151 total yards.
Overall, USF went to 16-0 all-time in home openers and 21-0 against opponents from the Football Championship Subdivision since 2000.
The Bulls were hoping for an open-and-shut first half, then an opportunity to rest their starters and sample their young players. Instead, due in equal part to USF's mistakes and UTC's feisty effort, Daniels and the regulars logged unexpected fourth-quarter duty.
Daniels had TD passes to Derrick Hopkins (19 yards), Terrence Mitchell (38) and Sterling Griffin (39). In the fourth quarter, Daniels did what he can do, even as the Mocs had pulled within 27-13.
On third-and-6 from the Chattanooga 20-yard line, Daniels dropped to pass, found no receivers open and took off. With his usual start-and-stop precision, Daniels swiveled past a fleet of Mocs defenders, including defensive back D.J. Key and linebacker Wes Dothard, who fell to the turf after failed tackle attempts. Daniels, dragging a pair of Mocs on his back, stretched into the end zone for a jaw-dropping touchdown.
At that point, Daniels' night was done and he gave way to redshirt freshman Matt Floyd, who saw his first action for the Bulls.
The offense finally had a chance to exhale.
USF's defense was generally stellar, though.
The Bulls limited Chattanooga to 2-for-15 on third-down conversions. During a key second-quarter sequence, the Mocs had six snaps inside USF's 10-yard line … and came away with no points.
Chattanooga had a touchdown run negated by a holding penalty. Mocs quarterback Jacob Huesman, who alternated with Terrell Robinson, was then dumped for a 10-yard loss by DeDe Lattimore and Julius Forte. Nick Pollard missed a 40-yard field-goal attempt.
End of threat.
"That was encouraging," Bulls junior defensive end Ryne Giddins said. "We're always looking to deny points."
USF's offense, while inconsistent and maddening at times, had some efficient moments.
Senior running back Demetris Murray produced USF's initial score on a 2-yard run in the first quarter.
When Chattanooga pushed to within 7-3, taking advantage of Daniels' lost fumble, USF answered with a pair of TD passes in the second quarter, making it 21-3.
Late in the half, though, the Bulls weren't satisfied and Daniels went deep for senior tight end Evan Landi. The pass, a floater, was intercepted by Key, who raced 43 yards and set up Keon Williams' 2-yard TD run with 30 seconds remaining, keeping the Mocs in it at 21-10.
The Mocs remained engaged until the fourth quarter, when Daniels' final, frantic run provided the punctuation mark.
"How good can we be?" Holtz said. "We're approaching it week by week. We're 1-0 now. Next week (at Nevada), we want to be 1-0 again. At the end of the season, after 12 games, we'll see where we are. But we won the first one and that's what we were looking for."
Daniels leads Bulls to win in opener