SYRACUSE, N.Y. — USF hasn't taken many fourth-down gambles this season, but the Bulls converted a key one early in Friday night's game at Syracuse and used a rare three-back backfield to do so.
Leading 3-0 and facing a fourth-and-1 play at the Syracuse 5-yard line, the Bulls lined up with three backs — TBs Demetris Murray and Marcus Shaw and walk-on FB 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 run and a 10-0 lead.
The Bulls went into the game 2-for-7 on fourth downs on the season; only six schools out of 120 in Division I-A had converted fewer. The gamble sparked an offense that had only a field goal and was working without leading rusher Darrell Scott, who was held out with concussion symptoms.
WELL-ARMED: After the Bulls struggled on kickoff coverage in last week's loss to Rutgers, coach Skip Holtz made good on a promise to use more of his starters on the unit.
Four defensive starters — LBs Sam Barrington and DeDe Lattimore and CBs Kayvon Webster and Quenton Washington — were on the unit. Washington made a tackle on a second-quarter kickoff.
YOUR LEADER, BRIEFLY: Senior DE Claude Davis, used primarily as a third-down pass rusher, took over the team lead in sacks when he got to Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib for his fifth of the season.
But later in the second quarter, sophomore Ryne Giddins got a sack of Nassib, giving him the team lead with 5.5. Both have surpassed last year's best total; no Bulls had more than four sacks in 2010.
QUITE A FLURRY: USF led 10-0 with four minutes left in the second quarter, but the teams managed to each score a touchdown and a 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 its 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 of 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 WR Victor Marc gaining 5 yards. … Freshman WR and Jefferson High grad Andre Davis, whose 43-yard catch set up a Daniels touchdown, had a career-high 62 receiving yards, all 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. He had four catches for 36 yards in all.
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bulls and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.