SYRACUSE, N.Y. — This time, USF finally held onto a lead in the fourth quarter, and for the first time since September, the Bulls found a way to win.
USF ended a four-game losing streak and got its first Big East win of the season Friday night, getting two red-zone stops in the fourth quarter and pulling away from Syracuse 37-17 in the Carrier Dome.
"That felt amazing — it was a long time coming," linebacker Mike Lanaris said. "They're a really good team, but we came in here, stayed focused, didn't make too many mistakes and we were able to bounce back."
The Bulls (5-4, 1-4 Big East) converted a fourth down inside the 5 to set up their first touchdown, then stopped Syracuse (5-5, 1-4) when the Orange went for it on fourth down twice in the red zone in the fourth quarter. USF quarterback B.J. Daniels had 371 yards of total offense, running for 117 and throwing well without any turnovers, and running back Demetris Murray put the game away with two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
"Just to get a team victory — it's great to win. It's been a while. I'm not sure how many days it's been," said Murray, who had 85 rushing yards and savored the team celebration in the locker room. "I haven't heard the fight song sung like that since Vero Beach (last) year."
Up 3-0 in the second quarter, the Bulls got a spark from a rare fourth-down gamble, going for it on fourth and 1 at the Syracuse 5. Murray converted with a 1-yard run from a three-back set, then Marcus Shaw scored a 4-yard touchdown from the same look on the next play for a 10-0 lead. Holtz said he felt like three points wasn't enough to set the tone for how well the offense was playing.
"As we say, 'When you work that hard, you've got to get paid,' " he said. "We've got to get some points out of this, and I didn't think three was what we were looking to settle for."
Both teams scored 10 points in the final four minutes of the first half, with Syracuse getting a touchdown, then Daniels answering with a 43-yard pass to freshman Andre Davis and adding a 3-yard scoring run of his own. A Syracuse field goal cut the lead to 17-10. USF answered in the final 1:20, with Daniels driving the Bulls 52 yards for another Maikon Bonani field goal from 46 yards as the half ended.
Double-digit leads in the second half weren't going to mean much to USF fans, who saw the Bulls squander a 10-point fourth-quarter lead in a loss to Cincinnati, then a 14-point fourth-quarter lead last week in a loss at Rutgers.
But this time the Bulls got a key stop on the goal line early in the fourth — Syracuse had second and goal at the 2 and was stopped twice, then went for it on fourth and goal from the 3. Nassib got off a desperation pass as he was pressured, but it fell incomplete. Four minutes later, Syracuse got to the USF 12 but was backed up and went for it again on fourth and 13, missing incomplete in the end zone again. Had Syracuse settled for the field goal each time, they would have been within a touchdown with 9:49 left.
USF put the game away in the fourth with an 83-yard touchdown drive, highlighted by Daniels' 30-yard run and capped by Murray's 2-yard touchdown run; he filled in for an injured Darrell Scott (concussion). Daniels finished with more than 250 passing yards and 100 rushing yards in the same game for just the second time.
Syracuse struck for a 58-yard touchdown pass — the second score from Ryan Nassib to Alec Lemon — with 3:41 left to cut the lead to 13. USF's Evan Landi recovered Syracuse's onside kick, and the Bulls offense added another Murray touchdown with 1:01 remaining.
USF needs one win in its final three home games — Miami, Louisville and West Virginia — to become bowl eligible and likely extend its streak to seven straight bowl appearances.