CINCINNATI — So that's what USF's offense is supposed to look like.
Quarterback B.J. Daniels made a resounding comeback Friday night and the Bulls, after two games without an offensive touchdown, hit big plays and third downs and everything they've been missing to upset Cincinnati 38-30 at Nippert Stadium.
The Bearcats, two-time defending Big East champs, had won 13 consecutive conference games, but the Bulls simply outscored them, getting stellar play from Daniels, who played mistake-free and came up with four total touchdowns and big throws when USF needed them.
"I am really proud of this football team, with everything they've been through in the last couple of weeks," coach Skip Holtz said. "I've been talking about how it's not as broke as it looks on the inside. … I thought B.J. came in as focused and dialed in as any quarterback I've been around. He was really special tonight, and I was really impressed with him."
Two early touchdowns put the Bulls up 14-3, but that lead was down to 17-16 in the third quarter when Daniels reset the longest play of USF's season twice in a span of two throws. The first was a 64-yarder to Dontavia Bogan to the Cincinnati 2, setting up Demetris Murray's touchdown run. Then after the defense's key stop on fourth and 1, Daniels found receiver Faron Hornes, who used his downfield blocking to speed away to a 70-yard touchdown and a 31-16 lead.
The Bulls (4-3, 1-2 Big East) had never won at Nippert Stadium, losing the previous three there by an average of 17 points. USF has never lost four times at an opposing stadium. The Bulls are 4-0 in Friday night games on ESPN2 over the past four seasons. Daniels passed for 286 yards (his second-most ever) and two touchdowns on 13-of-16. He also rushed for a team-high 35 yards and two scores.
"It clicked pretty well," Daniels said. "We have things we can still work on, but just to put up points and get that monkey off our back really means a lot, especially to come out with a win."
Cincinnati (3-4, 1-1) wasn't going away — after being stopped on fourth and 1 on the USF 29, the Bearcats went for it again on the next drive, on fourth and 6 from the 30. Quarterback Zach Collaros found Marcus Barnett for a 30-yard touchdown pass, pulling Cincinnati within 31-23. With 13:45 left, Cincinnati already had three receivers with more than 100 yards of offense.
But USF answered again, on third down no less (the Bulls were at 24.6 percent on third downs coming in, third-worst among 120 Division I-A teams). Facing third and 6 at the Cincinnati 41, Daniels found an open Murray for a 39-yard gain to the 2. On third and goal, the Bulls converted again, with Murray blocking as Daniels rolled right for a 1-yard score.
Cincinnati came back again, converting on fourth and 8 and getting a 15-yard touchdown from Collaros to Armon Binns to pull within 38-30 with 5:35 left. After forcing USF to go three and out, the Bearcats had one chance, with 3:25 left, from their 29. With backup Chazz Anderson at quarterback after Collaros suffered a leg injury, Cincinnati converted a third and 19 and reached the USF 16.
Facing fourth and 5 from the 16 with 16 seconds left, USF got one last stop, forcing Anderson into an incompletion. The defense allowed 590 yards, the most ever by a USF opponent, but it did enough for the road win, giving credit to the offense.
"We piggybacked off them tonight," said Bulls cornerback Mistral Raymond, who had an interception and a team-best 10 tackles. "They were the guys that really brought the energy and the excitement to the field tonight. It's great for us to see them get into a rhythm like that."