USF didn’t earn many style points in its 24-12 win against Western Kentucky on Saturday night in front of 40,276 fans at Raymond James Stadium, but coach Skip Holtz put it into the same category as any other win.
“You look at it, 50 percent of the country would trade with us today,” he said. “There’s no such thing as an ugly win. There are a lot of things we can improve on.”
“Nobody panicked, nobody flinched. At halftime (with the Bulls up just 7-0), it wasn’t a panic zone,” Holtz said. “David Bedford stood up at the end and said a lot of people expected us to win by a lot. It wasn’t our best effort, but we found a way to get the win. The season is too hard not to enjoy the victories.”
With the Bulls still trying to work out kinks in the passing game, Holtz and the offensive staff featured the running game.
Sophomore Demetris Murray ran for a career-high 115 yards (on 15 carries) and senior Mo Plancher rushed for 79 yards and a touchdown. The Bulls gained a total of 226 rushing yards.
“I like it,” Murray said. “We love running the ball, all of us as a group. Put it on our shoulders and we’ll run with it.”
Despite the rushing game’s early success, the Bulls clung to a 7-0 halftime lead, thanks to a couple missed field goals and an interception thrown by redshirt sophomore quarterback B.J. Daniels.
Daniels, who went only 7-of-11 for 57 yards, was picked off late in the second quarter, his fifth in the last two games.
“We always want to get better. We never want to look at it as just getting by,” Daniels said. “But any win is a good win. A lot of teams in the country probably lost (Saturday).”
With the passing game still a work in progress – the 57 yards passing were an all-time low for USF – Holtz said he had planned for the running backs to shoulder the load.
“I don’t know if you watched the Florida game, but we were 5-of-20 with four interceptions,” said Holtz, who saw his team pass just 11 times Saturday compared to 44 rushing attempts. “We didn’t give ourselves a chance. We didn’t want to throw the ball downfield (Saturday). We didn’t want to put ourselves in a situation where we were throwing interceptions and giving them a short field. If we had to run the ball and win this thing 10-7, I was ready to do that.”
Nursing a 7-0 lead, the Bulls took their opening second half drive 82 yards, setting up a 2-yard touchdown run for senior Richard Kelly.
Later in the third quarter, Daniels made it 21-0 with a 1-yard touchdown run set up by a 67-yard punt return by true freshman Terrence Mitchell.
USF held Western Kentucky running back Bobby Rainey, who came into the game ranked fifth in the country with 444 rush yards through three games, to just 64 yards on 21 carries.
“I mean, we still have to get better, but we took a step in the right direction,” said USF defensive coordinator Mark Snyder. “We challenged them to keep him under 100, and we were able to do that. I’m proud of them for that.”
The Bulls (2-1), coming off a loss at then-No. 6 Florida in Gainesville, host Florida Atlantic on Saturday and then open Big East play at home against Syracuse on Oct. 9.