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Plenty of reasons to celebrate

USF’s defense set a goal this year to force at least three turnovers per game. The Bulls settled on seven on Saturday.

USF got a lot of help from turnover-prone Syracuse, and the Bulls left the Carrier Dome with a 34-20 victory Saturday in their Big East opener.

“It’s an incredible number, and we needed all of (the turnovers) for us to win that game,” said coach Jim Leavitt. “They were big.”

So was the win, as USF rode the emotions of a historic victory over FSU in the previous week into the Carrier Dome and beat the Orange for the fourth straight time.

“I knew it was going to be a 60-minute ballgame,” Leavitt said. “It’s impossible to win the game that we won in Tallahassee … and come back and be on an emotional high like we were in that game. It’s impossible. You just have to hope that the talent and the fight will be enough to carry through.”

The two teams combined for five turnovers in the first 5 minutes of the game. After the Bulls recovered a fumble on Syracuse’s opening drive, Daniels fumbled the snap on USF’s first offensive play.

The teams traded a few more turnovers, with USF taking the advantage first when Jerome Murphy recovered a Syracuse fumble and Mike Ford scored on a 26-yard touchdown run on USF’s ensuing drive.

Ford finished with 68 yards rushing and two scores.

The Orange scored right before the half to cut USF’s lead to 14-13, but the momentum was quickly shifted when redshirt freshman quarterback B.J. Daniels hit junior receiver Carlton Mitchell for an 85-yard touchdown on the first play of the second half. Mitchell finished with a career-high 139 yards on six receptions.

“We got going at halftime and I was a little animated, but the players got themselves going,” Leavitt said. “It comes down to the players and what they want to do, because Syracuse had a lot of momentum at halftime.”

Daniels finished with 208 yards passing, two touchdowns and no interceptions in his second career start. He connected with Mitchell for a 33-yard score in the second quarter.

“B.J.’s a great quarterback,” said defensive end George Selvie, who was held quiet for most of the game. “He’s young, but he goes out and plays like the big man he is. He can run the ball and make the long passes. He makes great plays and you want that in a quarterback.”

Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul intercepted a pass from Syracuse quarterback Greg Paulus, a former Duke basketball player, in the third quarter and took it in the end zone to put USF 34-13.

USF (5-0, 1-0) has forced 11 turnovers in its last two games.

“That’s great,” said Pierre-Paul, last week’s Big East defensive player of the week. “We go into a game and want to get three turnovers or better.”

The Bulls, who have started 5-0 in each of the last three seasons, get a bye this week before their Thursday night showdown with undefeated Cincinnati on ESPN.

“Cincinnati is looking pretty good,” Selvie said. “We are both undefeated going into this game. Our defense is playing really well. Both of us have a bye week, so we can watch some teams lose and hopefully go up in the rankings. This game should be a really good game.”

The Bulls are ranked in the two major polls released Sunday. USF is No. 23 in the Associated Press and No. 24 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.