A USF victory wasn’t a guarantee, but if there was one game on the schedule where all signs pointed to one, it was against Syracuse on Homecoming.
However, the Orange, who had never beaten the Bulls in five previous tries, capped a 14-play, 98-yard drive early in the fourth quarter and held on for a 13-9 victory Saturday in front of an announced crowd of 41,917 at Raymond James Stadium in each team’s Big East opener.
“We had so many opportunities we just couldn’t capitalize on,” coach Skip Holtz said. “Some days you have that. (Saturday) was one of those days.”
And it couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Bulls, who have a quick turnaround as they get ready for a trip to Morgantown to face West Virginia on Thursday night.
“It would have been great to have momentum, but what we have to do right now is pick ourselves up, brush ourselves, sit down and look at the film, and come back with more determination to get some things fixed,” Holtz said.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback B.J. Daniels again struggled to find any rhythm with his receivers. After completing nearly 75 percent of his passes a week ago in a 31-3 win against FAU, Daniels was just 9-of-23 for 124 yards and two interceptions and was sacked four times.
The Bulls offense was held to a season-low 219 yards of total offense.
“They played well,” offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said. “We did not play well enough. You certainly have to look at all things. You certainly have to look and see if we can do something more to help (Daniels).”
The Bulls missed a prime opportunity to capitalize on a Syracuse mistake when senior linebacker Sabbath Joseph recovered a USF punt that hit a Syracuse player at the 8:40 mark in the second quarter. The Bulls took over at the
Orange 37-yard line, but kicker Maikon Bonani missed a 47-yard field goal with the scored tied 3-3.
The Orange took a 6-3 lead when they went 49 yards in 11 plays on their first drive of the second half, setting up a 41-yard field goal by Ross Krautman.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the game, however, was the lengthy drive the Orange were able to mount against the Bulls defense in the final quarter to take the lead for good.
“You hate letting anybody drive on you, whether it’s 15, 20 yards – whatever drive it is,” said senior defensive end Craig Marshall, who had three sacks. “The one winning drive the length of the field are the ones that hurt. You practice this every day. For them to be able to do that, it’s just demoralizing to the defense.”
Players said they have to have a short memory to focus on West Virginia.
“We know what our goal is. A guy punches you in the mouth, you have to be able to get back up and go get the next guy,” said senior safety Mistral Raymond. “Honestly, I didn’t see it coming.”