After Friday’s game, players acknowledged how detrimental another loss would have been for USF’s season, including the perception of a program trying to avoid a third straight year of midseason struggles.
After consecutive decisive defeats from Big East opponents – reminding many of USF’s past two seasons of starting strong, then sliding – USF’s 30-19 win over then-No. 20 West Virginia (6-2, 2-1) on Friday was just a reminder to fans that the Bulls plan to change things this time around.
“I guess a lot of people doubted us and thought we were going to go down the same path we did the last two years,” said USF freshman quarterback B.J. Daniels, who had 336 yards of total offense. “That was a lot of garbage that our team didn’t listen to. We all focused up and did the things we needed to do to come out with a win.”
USF committed far less penalties than it averaged the last two games, didn’t have a turnover (the Bulls had eight the last three games combined) and played well on defense, stifling West Virginia running back Noel Devine to his lowest season total.
“This game proved we’re back to where we were the week we played Florida State,” said senior linebacker Chris Robinson. “We needed to carry that (momentum) the rest of the season and we’ll be all right.”
With the win, USF avoided a three-game Big East losing streak and now needs one more win to become bowl eligible.
Daniels had a career-high three touchdown passes and also rushed for 104 yards on 14 carries. Last week, he had just 54 yards passing and only attempted eight throws, something for which coach Jim Leavitt took much of the blame.
“It’s my fault. I handcuffed him in the Pittsburgh game,” Leavitt said. “I didn’t let him go out there and play. We had some interceptions and I wanted to protect him a little bit. That’s nobody’s fault but mine. I told (offensive coordinator) Mike (Canales) in this game: let him go. Let him do what he does.”
For the most part, Daniels lived up to his potential, hitting receiver Carlton Mitchell for a 49-yard touchdown to tie the game 7-7 after West Virginia drove 80 yards on its opening drive. Daniels later connected with Mitchell on 69-yard pass play, which set up an 11-yard touchdown catch by junior wide receiver A.J. Love.
USF’s defense, meanwhile, bottled up West Virginia running back Noel Devine to 42 yards on 17 carries.
Aside from the 13-7 loss in Morgantown last season, the Bulls (6-2, 2-2) have performed well against the Mountaineers in recent years.
In 2006, unranked USF beat No. 7 West Virginia 24-19 late in the season. In 2007, the No. 18 Bulls beat the No. 5 Mountaineers in September, a win considered by many as the best in school history at the time. This year was much of the same.
“I guess it’s just game-planning,” Robinson siad of USF’s success. “They’re one of the hardest teams to game plan for. We always put the time in against them. With the option, you have to put the time in there.”
The win couldn’t have come at a better time, with USF entering a bye week and then preparing for a road trip to Rutgers on Nov. 12.
“For them to come back, it will do a lot mentally,” Leavitt said. “They get some confidence back. The (West Virginia) game was similar to the Florida State game.”
Robinson said the pressure would have mounted had USF gone into its bye week on a three-game losing skid.
“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.”