TAMPA — USF senior outside linebacker Jacquian Williams' eyes got wide as he saw the Rutgers offensive line open up like a highway.
"Happiest day of my life — happiest day of my life," he said of the moment.
From there, he did the rest.
Rutgers, trailing 28-27 with less than four minutes left, had fourth and 3 on the USF 41, and in a game-changing moment Williams burst through the line, grabbed freshman quarterback Chas Dodd and threw him to the ground.
An 8-yard sack. A victory sealed.
It was one of many big-time plays the Bulls got from their defense in the second half of a much-needed win Wednesday night at Raymond James Stadium.
"You have to trust your defense, and those guys are doing a great job of keeping the ball in front of them, rallying, tackling, competing together," coach Skip Holtz said.
The way the first half went, it seemed as if the first team that got a defensive stop would have the best chance at winning. Not only did defensive coordinator Mark Snyder's unit give him stops, holding the Scarlet Knights to 96 yards in the second half, it got points, too.
With USF trailing 24-20 late in the third quarter, backup defensive tackle Keith McCaskill made the biggest play of his career, staying on his assignment on a screen play to running back Kordell Young on third and 21 from the 4. McCaskill read the screen and brought Young down in the end zone for a safety.
But USF quarterback B.J. Daniels threw an interception deep in his territory on the next drive, and the Bulls were forced to make another stop on short notice. They held Rutgers to a field goal, and USF scored the winning touchdown the next possession.
"Finish strong has always been the slogan here on our defense and our team as a whole," senior safety Mistral Raymond said. "When that time comes and when you're out there on that field, you want to be clutch, and you want to seal that win."
With returners making big plays and offenses clicking in the first half, the teams combined for 34 points. After Mason Robinson's 60-yard punt return for a touchdown, Rutgers' offense, led by an effective wildcat formation, scored on three consecutive possessions, including a nine-play, 74-yard drive for a 24-17 lead with 4:16 left in the third quarter.
That would be the last touchdown of the game for the Scarlet Knights as USF's defense made adjustments and responded with a three-and-out on the next drive.
For the second week in a row, Williams, who had 11 tackles and 11/2 sacks, was involved in big plays in the final moments. Last week, he forced an errant throw by Cincinnati quarterback Chazz Anderson to seal a road victory.
"Big-time players make big-time plays," he said.