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USF Bulls fall to No. 25 West Virginia 20-6

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — USF's offensive struggles continued for another week.

B.J. Daniels threw three more interceptions and the Bulls defense couldn't do it all by itself as they fell 20-6 at No. 25 West Virginia on Thursday.

The Bulls have lost six straight games played on Thursdays and gone two full games without an offensive touchdown with only two Maikon Bonani field goals to show for Thursday's effort.

"We've got to put some points up. We're playing way too well on defense. They deserve better," coach Skip Holtz said after his Bulls fell to 0-2 in Big East play for the first time in their six seasons in the league. "Our offense right now is not very productive.

"It's bad. It really is."

The Bulls (3-3, 0-2) now must prepare for another difficult Big East road test, Oct. 22 against Cincinnati.

In Saturday's 13-9 loss to Syracuse, USF's only touchdown came on a kickoff return. The 15 points over consecutive regular-season games are the fewest in the program's 14-year history. Its previous low of 17 came in 2002 against Arkansas and Oklahoma.

"It's tough. It's real tough when you don't do your job as far as scoring," said Daniels, who was 20-of-30 for 119 yards. "We're not going to give up. We still have more than half the season left.

"The only thing we can do is keep pushing. We're not going to throw in the towel and make excuses about what we do have or don't have."

USF had beaten West Virginia (5-1, 1-0) in three of the past four seasons. But that magic wasn't there Thursday.

USF's defense gave up 150 yards and 10 points on the Mountaineers' first two drives. Then it shut things down, holding them to 148 yards on 10 drives, the only touchdown coming on a very short field.

USF trailed just 10-3 with a minute left in the first half when Daniels made a costly — and familiar — mistake to give momentum back to the Mountaineers, who have won 12 consecutive home games, and a crowd of 54,955 at Milan Puskar Stadium.

After throwing interceptions in the final 90 seconds before halftime against Florida and Western Kentucky, USF's quarterback found himself on his 13 with 51 seconds left against West Virginia.

This time, USF was set to get the ball to start the second half.

But Daniels again tried a risky pass, scrambling and throwing to receiver Evan Landi. His throw was intercepted by Robert Sands and returned it to the USF 7.

The Bulls defense, which had forced four consecutive punts, saw the Mountaineers score one play later on a hook-and-lateral.

Geno Smith threw to receiver Jock Sanders, a St. Petersburg Catholic graduate, who pitched it to running back Noel Devine for a 17-3 halftime lead.

"I take some of that blame on myself," Holtz said of the interception.

"Especially after what we did at Florida, I probably should have said, 'Take a knee and go in and it's a one-score game.' I asked (Daniels) if it's not there, throw it away. We can't make those mistakes."

Both teams crossed midfield just twice in the second half and managed only a field goal apiece.

The Bulls came in needing a spark on offense after coming up with only a field goal from Saturday's loss to Syracuse, a team USF had beaten in five previous meetings.

Daniels was accurate but mostly on screens — aside from Dontavia Bogan (11 catches for 98 yards), none of his completions went longer than 8 yards. USF went 1-for-11 on third downs.

Two interceptions in the fourth quarter gave Daniels 10 this season, one more than he finished with in all of 2009 as a redshirt freshman. In three games this season against teams from BCS conferences — ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC — Daniels has thrown one touchdown and nine interceptions.

Meanwhile, USF's defense has been unable to force turnovers at anywhere near the same rate — zero in the past two losses.

"In eight quarters, we've put up nine points as an offense," Holtz said.

"We have to take a hard look at where we are, what we're doing, who we're doing it with, how we're doing it. We can't continue going the way we're going right now."

Greg Auman can be reached at auman@sptimes.com. Keep up with his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bulls.

USF Bulls fall to No. 25 West Virginia 20-6 10/14/10 [Last modified: Friday, October 15, 2010 1:35am]

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