TAMPA — All of the traditional demons of USF's recent midseason struggles were nowhere to be found Friday against No. 20 West Virginia.
Turnovers? The Bulls committed none. Penalties? The Bulls had just 21 yards on five. Field-goal woes? Walk-on Eric Schwartz went 3-for-3, including a 44-yarder in the fourth.
B.J. Daniels passed with patience and poise, hitting three touchdowns and rushing for 104 yards in leading the Bulls to a 30-19 win, their third over the Mountaineers in four years.
As awful as the Bulls (6-2, 2-2 Big East) looked six days earlier in a 41-14 loss at Pittsburgh, they played some of their best football, moving the chains consistently and keeping West Virginia (6-2, 2-1) and star running back Noel Devine in check defensively.
"They played so much better than we did the last few weeks," coach Jim Leavitt said. "I was really happy with the defensive secondary."
Just as Pittsburgh marched 80 yards on its first drive last week, USF's defense gave up an 80-yard drive for a touchdown on the game's first series.
This time, the offense answered right back, with Daniels hitting receiver Carlton Mitchell for a 49-yard touchdown after running back Mo Plancher converted a fourth and 1 at midfield.
The defense stepped up, too. After the initial drive, the Bulls held West Virginia to just 91 yards on its remaining six drives of the half, which netted only a field goal. Overall, Devine had 42 yards on 17 carries, the first time he had fewer than 80 in nine games.
"We were on the same page; 11 as one, flying all over the field," said linebacker Chris Robinson, who had six tackles. "This game proved we're back to where we were the week we played Florida State. We need to carry that the rest of the season, and we'll be all right."
West Virginia cut USF's lead to 10-9 when a punt was pinned at the 2 and running back Jamar Taylor was stopped in the end zone for a safety. Again, the Bulls offense came up with a big play, Daniels and Mitchell hooking up for a 69-yard gain to the 9. Three plays later, Daniels hit A.J. Love from 11 yards for the touchdown.
West Virginia scored on its first drive of the second half, too, an 11-yard run by quarterback Jarrett Brown, cutting USF's lead to 20-19. Again, the Bulls answered on offense, with Plancher getting a 28-yard run to the 12. On third down from the 6, Daniels hit freshman Sterling Griffin for a touchdown and a 27-19 lead.
The Bulls continued to be aggressive on offense, going for it on fourth and 1 from their 41 and converting on Daniels' keeper. On the ensuing third and 5, Daniels, who threw for 232 yards, scrambled for 23 yards, setting up a 44-yard field goal by Schwartz.
A Raymond James Stadium crowd announced at 56,328 cheered as the Bulls kept alive a streak of not losing consecutive home games since joining the Big East in 2005. West Virginia's last hopes of rallying ended when Brown's pass on fourth and 28 went incomplete with 3:27 to play.
West Virginia was the third consecutive ranked opponent for the Bulls, a first in school history. USF faced the possibility of losing a third straight after a 5-0 start had them ranked No. 21.
"Everybody thinks we have the three-game slump every year where we lose three in a row," Robinson said. "I'm just glad we changed that up."
Times staff writer Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected] and at (813) 226-3346. See his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf and follow him at twitter.com/gregauman.