Rare fourth-down gamble sparked Bulls' offense
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- USF hasn't taken many fourth-down gambles this season, but the Bulls converted a key one early in Saturday's game at Syracuse, using a rare three-back backfield to do so.
Leading 3-0 and facing a fourth-and-1 at the Syracuse 5, the Bulls lined up with three backs -- tailbacks Demetris Murray and Marcus Shaw and walk-on fullback Chris Breit -- and Murray converted with a 1-yard gain. The Bulls lined up in the same formation on the next play, and Shaw found an opening for a 4-yard touchdown and a 10-0 lead.
The Bulls went into the game just 2-for-7 on fourth downs on the season -- only six schools out of 120 in Division I-A football had converted fewer this year. The gamble sparked an offense that had only a field goal, working without leading rusher Darrell Scott, who was held out with concussion symptoms.
On the previous drive, Holtz had played it safe, opting to punt on fourth-and-3 from the Syracuse 34 rather than attempt a long field goal or go for it. The difference between the seven points and the three they might have taken paid off later -- Syracuse, down 23-10 early in the fourth quarter, felt compelled to go for it on fourth-and-goal at the 3, and the pass fell incomplete in the end zone.
WELL-ARMED: After struggling on kickoff coverage in last week's loss to Rutgers, Skip Holtz made good on a promise to use more of his starters on the unit, with four defensive starters -- linebackers Sam Barrington and DeDe Lattimore and cornerbacks Kayvon Webster and Quenton Washington -- on the kickoff unit. Washington made the tackle on a second-quarter kickoff.
YOUR LEADER, BRIEFLY: Senior defensive end Claude Davis, who is used primarily as a third-down pass rusher, took over the team lead when he got to Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib for his fifth sack of the season. But later in the second quarter, sophomore Ryne Giddins got his own sack of Nassib, giving him the team lead with 5.5 sacks; later in the second half, linebacker DeDe Lattimore got a sack to match Giddins' total of 5.5 on the season. All three have already surpassed last year's best total, as no Bulls had more than four sacks in 2010.
QUITE A FLURRY: USF had a 10-0 lead with four minutes left in the second quarter, but the teams managed to each score a touchdown and field goal in the final 3:52 before halftime. Special-teams penalties helped a bit -- Syracuse had a kickoff out of bounds and a personal foul to set USF up at the Orange 45, and after a touchdown, USF answered with a late-hit flag to set up the Orange at their 44.
USF was able to pad its lead in the final 1:20 as B.J. Daniels drove the Bulls from their 19 to the Syracuse 29. A potential touchdown pass was caught out the back of the end zone with one second on the clock, and Maikon Bonani connected on a 46-yard field goal as the half ended for a 20-10 lead.
THIS AND THAT: The Bulls loosened up their playbook -- at one point, Daniels lined up in the slot, but shifted back to quarterback before the snap. The Bulls tried a reverse as well, with Victor Marc gaining 5 yards. ... Freshman receiver Andre Davis, whose 43-yard catch set up a Daniels touchdown, had a career-high 62 receiving yards by halftime. ... Junior Evan Landi, who moved from receiver to tight end before the season, saw action at his old position, catching two passes for 24 yards in the first half. ...