In the final tuneup before the Big East schedule begins, then-No. 18 USF completed a less-than-impressive 52-24 win over Texas El-Paso at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday night.
While the offense continued to impress, particularly on the ground, weaknesses in the defense were exposed.
Despite scoring at least 50 points in back-to-back games and improving to 4-0, USF coach Skip Holtz said the team needs to correct its mistakes on defense heading into the conference opener against Pittsburgh on Thursday night.
“I have a pit in my stomach after this game,” Holtz said. “We made so many mistakes. We’ll get them corrected. I can’t wait to get ahold of that film.”
Although the Bulls allowed UTEP’s offense to amass 339 yards – more than USF allowed in its last two games combined – the defense put on a better showing in the second half, holding UTEP to only 105 yards and causing three turnovers, including Sam Barrington’s 30-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Redshirt junior quarterback B.J. Daniels had another standout performance, going 15-for-24 with 202 yards and two touchdowns. Daniels was also a threat on the ground, gaining 130 rushing yards and a touchdown.
On the Bulls’ second offensive play of the game, Daniels ran 71 yards for the score to give the Bulls an early 7-0 lead three minutes into the game.
In total, the Bulls racked up 575 yards of total offense in the win. With 373 rushing yards, USF was just four yards shy of breaking the school record for rushing yards in a game. USF had four players that rushed for a touchdown and had at least 50 rushing yards.
“We still have a lot of work to do and can definitely continue to get better,” Daniels said. “It shows we’re not perfect. We were able to put up numbers, but we have to not get complacent and just continue to improve.”
Even though the Bulls jumped out to an early 21-7 first quarter lead after Daniels’ long touchdown run and scoring runs by running backs Darrell Scott and Demetris Murray, UTEP cut the lead to 21-14 when it scored on a 24-yard pass from Carson Meger to Anthony McGhee in the second quarter. Seconds later, Victor Marc scored on a 67-yard run, helping the Bulls to a 31-17 lead at halftime.
In the third quarter, Daniels connected with Lindsay Lamar for a 54-yard touchdown pass, extending the lead to 38-17.
The Bulls sealed the game in the fourth quarter by scoring two touchdowns within 14 seconds, including a second touchdown pass to Lamar.
Lamar had four receptions for 85 yards and two touchdowns in the game. He also added 36 yards rushing.
“It seemed like everybody did their job perfectly on those two touchdowns,” Lamar said. “I mean, B.J. threw the ball perfectly, the line blocked perfectly. It was the right play at the right time.”
USF sophomore Terrence Mitchell went down in the fourth quarter after making a tackle on a fake punt and was taken off the field on a stretcher. Fears were alleviated when it was announced that Mitchell, who suffered a concussion, was released from the hospital Saturday night.
The win moved USF up two more spots in the Associated Press poll to No. 16. The Bulls jumped even higher in the USA Today/Coaches’ Poll, climbing to No. 14. USF is now the highest-ranked team in the Big East, ahead of AP No. 22 West Virginia.