'So much better': USF beats W. Virginia, 30-19
TAMPA – All the traditional demons of USF’s recent midseason struggles were nowhere to be found on Friday night against No. 20 West Virginia.
Turnovers? The Bulls committed none. Costly penalties? The Bulls had just 21 yards on five flags. Field-goal woes? Walk-on kicker Eric Schwartz went 3-for-3, including a clutch 44-yarder in the fourth.
Quarterback B.J. Daniels passed with patience and poise, throwing for three touchdowns and rushing for 104 yards in leading the Bulls to a 30-19 win, beating the Mountaineers for the third time in four years.
As awful as the Bulls (6-2, 2-2) looked six days earlier in a 41-14 loss at Pittsburgh, they played some of their best football on offense and defense, moving the chains consistently and keeping West Virginia (6-2, 2-1) and star running back Noel Devine in check defensively.
“They played so much better than we did the last few weeks,” coach Jim Leavitt said. “I was really happy with the defensive secondary. Those guys played a lot better.”
Just as Pittsburgh had marched 80 yards on its first drive last week, USF’s defense gave up an 80-yard drive for a West Virginia touchdown on the first possession. This time, the offense answered right back, with Daniels hitting receiver Carlton Mitchell for a 49-yard touchdown after Mo Plancher converted a fourth-and-1 at midfield.
The defense then stepped up, too – after allowing 80 yards on the first drive, the Bulls held West Virginia to just 91 on its remaining six drives of the half, which netted only a field goal. Devine was held to 42 yards on 17 carries, his first game under 80 yards in the last nine games.
“We were on the same page. Eleven as one, flying all over the field,” said linebacker Chris Robinson, who had six tackles. “This game proved we’re back to where we were the week we played Florida State. We need to carry that the rest of the season and we’ll be all right.”
West Virginia cut USF’s lead to 10-9 when a punt was pinned at the 2-yard line and Jamar Taylor was stopped in the end zone for a safety. Again, the Bulls offense came up with a big play, with Daniels and Mitchell hooking up for a 69-yard gain to the 9-yard line. Daniels hit Love from 11 yards for his second touchdown.
West Virginia scored on its first drive of the second half, too, getting an 11-yard run from Jarrett Brown to cut USF’s lead to 20-19. Again, the Bulls answered on offense, with Plancher getting a strong 28-yard run to the 12-yard line. On third down from the 6, Daniels hit freshman Sterling Griffin for a 6-yard touchdown and a 27-19 lead.
The Bulls continued to be aggressive on offense, going for it on fourth-and-1 from their 41 and converting on a Daniels keeper. On the ensuing third and 5, Daniels scrambled for 23 yards, setting up a 44-yard field goal by Schwartz.
A Raymond James Stadium crowd announced at 56,328 cheered as the Bulls kept alive a streak of not losing consecutive home games since joining the Big East in 2005. West Virginia’s last hopes of rallying ended when Jarrett Brown’s pass on fourth and 28 went incomplete with 3:27 to play.
West Virginia was the third consecutive ranked opponent for the Bulls, a first in school history, and USF faced the possibility of losing a third straight game after a promising 5-0 start that had them ranked No. 21 in the nation.
The Bulls struggled in a 34-17 loss to Cincinnati, then were dominated on both sides of the ball in a 41-14 loss at Pittsburgh last week.
"Everybody thinks we have the three-game slump every year where we lose three in a row," Robinson said. "I'm just glad we changed that up and I hope we can change the rest of the season so we don't lose any more."
USF has always played some of its best football against West Virginia, knocking off the Mountaineers when they were No. 7 in 2006, and No. 5 in 2007. The Bulls now have a week off, then another weeknight game, trying to break their Thursday-night hex with a game at Rutgers on Nov. 12.