TAMPA — Sterling Griffin landed on his back at the side of the south end zone, perhaps 20 feet from where he had last been seen for USF.
After an absence of nearly six weeks, USF's leading receiver made a resounding comeback in the second quarter Thursday night, reeling in a 20-yard touchdown pass from QB B.J. Daniels, not far from where he broke his ankle in late October.
Griffin was initially ruled out of bounds, but replays showed that he tapped his foot down in the end zone before landing on his back out of bounds. His catch capped a nine-play, 80-yard drive as USF's offense woke up after three straight three-and-out possessions against West Virginia.
When Griffin injured his ankle on a pass in the same end zone, he was said to be out six to eight weeks, which left little room for a return, except for a bowl game. But he returned to practice last week and was cleared to play, making the most of his first catch.
Despite missing four games, Griffin remained the team leader in receptions (40) and receiving yards (493) entering the game.
Griffin wasn't the only receiver making a comeback from injury. Sixth-year senior A.J. Love, who was honored with his classmates before his final home game, caught a 6-yard pass on the game's opening drive.
ROUGH START: USF's recent struggles in the first quarter mirror the team's overall struggles since the first month of the season.
After the opening quarter ended 0-0, the Bulls had scored a total of three points in the first quarters of their past four games.
That's a stark contrast to the start of the season, when the Bulls scored 13, 10, 21 and 21 points in the opening quarters of their first four wins; they've totaled 20 first-quarter points in eight games since.
IRON KIND: For the second week in a row, USF was spared when an opponent's first-quarter field goal bounced off an upright for a miss. Louisville did that off the upright in the north end zone last week, and West Virginia's came in the south end zone. A week before Louisville's miss, USF's Ryne Giddins blocked a Miami field goal in the Bulls' 6-3 loss.
PLAYING IT SAFE: Both teams played it conservative early, with USF punting from the West Virginia 38-yard line and West Virginia returning the favor from the USF 37. The field-position battle ended when the Bulls' Justin Brockhaus-Kann hit a 16-yard punt, setting up the Mountaineers in USF territory.
SENIORS HONORED: USF honored 17 seniors playing in their final home game.
Among them were eight local high school products, including starting C Chaz Hine (Newsome), DE Claude Davis (Lake Gibson), DE Rony Delisca (Wharton), WR Love (Bradenton Southeast), WR Joel Miller (Wharton), long snapper Mike Walsh (Plant), LB Curtis Weatherspoon, who is from St. Petersburg, and starting S Jerrell Young (Gibbs).
Times correspondent Ian Lanphier contributed to this report. Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3346. View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf. Follow him on Twitter at @GregAuman.