Bulls hold on, end skid with 37-17 win at Syracuse
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- This time, USF was finally able to hold onto a lead in the fourth quarter, and for the first time since September, the Bulls found a way to win.
USF ended a four-game losing streak and got its first Big East win of the season, getting two red-zone stops in the fourth quarter and pulling away for a 37-17 win over Syracuse in the Carrier Dome on Friday night.
"That felt amazing -- it was a long time coming," linebacker Mike Lanaris said. "They're a really good team, but we came in here, stayed focused, didn't make too many mistakes and we were able to bounce back."
The Bulls (5-4, 1-4 in Big East) converted a fourth down inside the 5 to set up the Bulls' first touchdown, then stopped Syracuse (5-5, 1-4) when the Orange tried the same twice in the red zone in the fourth quarter. Quarterback B.J. Daniels had 371 yards of total offense, running for 117 and throwing well without any turnovers, and Demetris Murray put the game away with two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
"Just to get a team victory -- it's great to win. It's been a while. I'm not sure how many days it's been," said Murray, who had 85 rushing yards and savored the team celebration in the locker room after the game. "I haven't heard the fight song sung like that since Vero Beach (last) year."
Up 3-0 in the second quarter, the Bulls got a spark from a rare fourth-down gamble, going for it on fourth-and-1 at the Syracuse 5. Murray converted with a 1-yard run from a three-back set, and then Marcus Shaw scored a 4-yard touchdown from the same look on the next play for a 10-0 lead. Holtz said he felt like three points wasn't enough to set the tone for how well the offense was playing.
"As we say, when you work that hard, you've got to get paid," Holtz said. "We've got to get some points out of this, and I didn't think three was what we were looking to settle for."
Both teams scored 10 points in the final four minutes of the first half, with Syracuse getting a touchdown, then Daniels answering with a 43-yard pass to freshman Andre Davis and a 3-yard scoring run of his own. Syracuse got a field goal to cut the lead to 17-10, and USF answered in the final 1:20, with Daniels driving the Bulls 52 yards for another Bonani field goal from 46 yards as the half ended.
USF hurt itself with penalties on the opening drive of the second half, drawing three flags for 25 yards in the red zone after getting to the Syracuse 13. The Bulls settled for another Bonani field goal, then did worse on the next drive, as Daniels hit a wide-open Victor Marc, who dived for a touchdown but fumbled out the back of the end zone for a touchback. That was a potential 11 points left on the field instead of putting the Orange out of reach.
Double-digit leads in the second half weren't going to mean much to USF fans, who saw the Bulls blow a 10-point fourth-quarter lead in a loss to Cincinnati, then a 14-point fourth-quarter lead last week in a loss at Rutgers.
The Bulls' defense got a key stop on the goal line early in the fourth quarter -- Syracuse had second and goal at the 2 and was stopped twice, then opted to go for it on fourth and goal from the 3. Nassib got off a desperation pass as he was pressured, but it fell incomplete to end the drive. Four minutes later, Syracuse got to the USF 12, but was backed up and went for it again on fourth-and-13, missing incomplete in the end zone again. Had Syracuse settled for the field goal each time, they would have been within a touchdown with 9:49 left in the game.
USF put the game away in the fourth with an 83-yard touchdown drive, highlighted by a 30-yard Daniels run and capped off by a 2-yard touchdown by Murray, who filled in for an injured Darrell Scott (concussion). Daniels finished with more than 250 passing yards and 100 rushing yards in the same game for just the second time in his USF career.
Syracuse struck for a 58-yard touchdown pass -- the second scoring connection from Ryan Nassib to Alec Lemon -- with 3:41 left to cut the Bulls' lead to 13. Bulls receiver Evan Landi recovered Syracuse's onsides kick attempt, and USF's offense added another Murray touchdown with 1:01 remaining.
With the win, USF now needs just one win in its final three home games -- against Miami, Louisville and West Virginia -- to become bowl-eligible and extend its streak to seven straight bowl appearances. USF improves to 4-0 at the Carrier Dome, having won in all four trips since joining the Big East in 2005.