TAMPA — It was the type of crisp, bright afternoon seemingly custom-made for carpe diem.
Before the second-largest home crowd of its existence, USF could've seized this glorious day. The Bulls had the chance to piledrive another of the state's "Big Three," perhaps avoid bowl banishment to Birmingham, and win two in a row for the first time in nearly two months.
Instead, the Bulls let the opportunity — not to mention Miami's backs — get right past them.
Today, a mere gap doesn't separate the Bulls from the 'Canes. A gulf is more like it. At least that's how it appeared Saturday, when Miami (9-3) completely manhandled USF in the trenches en route to a 31-10 romp before 66,469 at Raymond James Stadium.
"Our defense at the line of scrimmage got whooped, really got whooped," Bulls coach Jim Leavitt conceded.
Nearly two months to the day after its 17-7 victory at FSU, USF's chance for a 2009 'Noles-'Canes quinela was snuffed by a UM front that paved the way for its ball carriers to amass 240 yards and keep quarterback Jacory Harris untouched in the pocket most of the game.
"You don't have a prayer of winning a game when you give up (240) yards rushing," said defensive coordinator Joe Tresey, who returned three defensive linemen previously on the shelf.
"If we would've gotten off blocks we might have been able to make a play, and then we missed some tackles too. It's always an accumulation of a lot of things when they run the ball like that."
Moments after USF's seniors — the class with the most wins in school history — were recognized in a pregame ceremony, the 'Canes set the tone on the game's opening drive. Killing 51/2 minutes, they marched 81 yards in 12 plays, capped by Harris' 11-yard TD pass to Leonard Hankerson.
They took a 21-3 first-half lead on Javarris James' 2-yard TD run that capped an 11-play, 85-yard drive. Harris, sacked only once on the day, completed passes of 10 and 19 yards on third down to perpetuate the march.
"We've got to get better up front," Leavitt acknowledged. "One of our weaknesses is getting stout and physical people that play inside. And we're just not that big and physical inside."
While the 'Canes steamrolled, USF stalled. Three of its first four possessions ended on a punt, fumble and interception.
Quarterback B.J. Daniels, coming off a career effort against Louisville, was held to 116 total yards, completing 6-of-16 passes with a TD, interception and three sacks. And leading receiver Carlton Mitchell had one catch.
"We expected this was another step in solidifying ourselves in the state," Daniels said, "so it is, I guess, reverse (of the FSU postgame feeling)."
Behind Daniels, USF mounted its lone touchdown drive of the day to open the second half, but nearly squandered that when it was whistled for consecutive false-start penalties after having third and goal at the UM 2.
Daniels salvaged it with a 12-yard pass to A.J. Love — his final check-off — in the back of the end zone. Daniels ran five times for 46 yards on the 13-play, 83-yard drive.
That made it 21-10. But USF (7-4) went three plays and out on its next four possessions. Time ran out on the fifth.
"Is that the worst thing to say, that you're not at the same level as Miami right now?" Leavitt said. "I'd like to say we are, but we're not.
"We've got a very good football team and our day will come."