MIAMI — For two weeks, the big question was which quarterback would step up and take over in USF's game at Miami.
The answer? Resoundingly, the Hurricanes' Stephen Morris. He passed for 413 yards and three touchdowns, torching USF's secondary and making the issue of the Bulls' dueling backup quarterbacks a footnote in Miami's dominating 40-9 victory before an announced 38,869 at Sun Life Stadium.
USF dropped to 3-7, ending any fleeting hopes — for a second straight season — of salvaging a bowl after its seventh loss in eight games. And in a season marked by frustratingly close losses, this was the most lopsided defeat in coach Skip Holtz's three seasons.
"We didn't make plays when they needed to be made — offensively, defensively, receivers, running backs," running back Demetris Murray said. "With a new quarterback, you've got to make plays for them. Magical plays, wild plays, you have to make those. We didn't do it today."
With starter B.J. Daniels lost to a season-ending leg injury, Holtz went with junior Bobby Eveld, taking away his redshirt instead of using redshirt freshman Matt Floyd, Daniels' backup all season. Eveld left in the first quarter with a separated left (nonthrowing) shoulder, likely ending his season ("I'm sick … probably the worst-case scenario," Holtz said), and Floyd threw two interceptions in his first six attempts, helping Miami to a 16-0 lead.
The floodgates opened in the second half, as the Hurricanes (6-5) struck for a long touchdown drive, then an 87-yard pass. A minute into the fourth quarter, a 65-yard touchdown made it 37-3, a demoralizing score for a Bulls team whose previous six losses were by no more than 13 points.
"It is certainly disappointing to play the way we did … some of the uncontested balls we gave up defensively, some of the turnovers we had were frustrating," said Holtz, who called his pass defense (456 yards) "poor."
Morris threw for 413 — the second-most ever against the Bulls — and Miami had five passes longer than USF's longest offensive play, running away with the game in a series that saw an overtime USF win in 2010 and a last-second 6-3 win by Miami last season in Tampa.
"My guys stepped up and made great plays," said Morris, who hadn't topped 223 yards in any of his previous five games but now has eight touchdowns and zero interceptions in his past three.
USF's only points came on field goals, and even those made its fans furious — USF inexplicably let 21 seconds run off at the Miami 7 in the final minute of the first half without taking any of three timeouts, costing the team a shot at the end zone before settling for three points and a 16-3 deficit. Then twice in the fourth quarter, trailing by 34, Holtz opted for field goals inside the Miami 20, rather than give his young quarterback another shot at his first touchdown pass.
"With all the sophomores and freshmen on this team, I felt it was really important we got some positive out of the last couple of drives," Holtz said. "I felt going for a fourth and 7 and dragging their tails off the field with no points and a lot of yards to show for it was not the answer. What we were doing in the fourth quarter was building a lot of young players for Cincinnati next week and Pittsburgh the week after that, trying to build confidence in a football team that obviously didn't have a lot of other reason to have it tonight."
The Bulls travel to Cincinnati on Friday, then finish at home Dec. 1 against Pittsburgh. At best they can match last year's 5-7 record, or get the second Big East win that last year's Bulls couldn't. Otherwise, they'll be the first eight-loss USF team in the program's 16-year history.
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected]