USF, Daniels rout Ball State 37-7 in home opener
TAMPA -- For all the emotion of the week, coming down from the high of winning at Notre Dame, then attending Friday's memorial services for Lee Roy Selmon, USF quarterback B.J. Daniels was cool, calm and comfortable in dissecting Ball State's defense with ease Saturday night.
A week after he threw for 128 yards against the Fighting Irish, Daniels threw for 195 yards -- in the second quarter alone -- and finished with a career-best 359 yards in leading the No. 22 Bulls to an easy 37-7 win before an announced 45,113 at Raymond James Stadium.
"Amongst the players, we said we were going to play this game for (Selmon)," Daniels said. "We didn't want to have any dropoff, anything that wavered. It was terrible news to hear ... we had to come out still and play football."
You could almost say it was over before it started -- USF (2-0) took a 7-0 lead just eight seconds into the game when Mike Jeune and Armando Sanchez forced a fumble on the opening kickoff and Mark Joyce returned the loose ball 17 yards for a tone-setting touchdown.
From there, the only gripes Skip Holtz had were his offense's red-zone efficiency, settling for three field goals, and how backups played in mop-up duty in the second half.
"With so many distractions ... it had all the makings of a letdown, of coming out there and playing a little bit flat, not playing with the emotion we needed to play with," Holtz said. "I think it speaks volumes for these players ... I thought the first half was probably, outside of red-zone productivity, the most complete half of football we played since I've been here. I thought that was pretty impressive."
USF outgained Ball State (0-2) 386-76 in the opening half, with second-quarter touchdowns by Demetris Murray, then a 20-yard pass from Daniels to receiver Victor Marc for a 30-0 lead. Daniels set career highs for yards, completions and attempts, finishing 28-for-39 and staying in command of the game.
"I think the way he's seeing the field, throwing with accuracy, the comfort level of him in this offense," Holtz said. "He's comfortable in the offense, and it's really showing with what he's doing, the way he's protecting the ball. It's a far cry, these first two games, from where we were at Florida a year ago."
The starters played just two series in the second half, leaving with a 37-0 lead, and Ball State spoiled the shutout in the fourth quarter only after a personal-foul penalty negated a Bulls interception.
"The coach in me wasn't quite as excited about the second half," Holtz said. "I've been talking about the depth of this football team and how we have to continue to get better, and I think that kind of reared its ugly head."
There were new offensive stars for the Bulls -- running back Darrell Scott broke loose on a 31-yard hurdle-and-run in the third quarter, finishing with 82 yards and his first touchdown as a Bull; receiver Terrence Mitchell earned his first start and had a team-high seven catches for 60 yards; receiver Victor Marc had a team-high 81 yards and a touchdown pass from Daniels.
USF paid tribute to Selmon, the school's former athletic director who was buried in Oklahoma on Saturday. Selmon, 56, died on Sept. 4, two days after suffering a stroke. Fans received decals bearing his name and No. 63 jersey number, and a moment of silence was observed before the game.
With interest in the Selmon tribute, the game drew an announced 45,113, the biggest crowd for a Bulls home opener since 48,058 saw USF and Tennessee-Martin in 2008. The actual attendance, according to the Tampa Sports Authority, was 36,292.
The crowd saw a dominating first half -- USF's defense took a shutout into the third quarter for the second week in a row, but Daniels said the Bulls want to show as much promise on the offensive side of the ball this season.
"We take it as a pride thing," Daniels said. "We feel like we have a good defense, but we want to be known for moving the ball on offense as well."