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No. 20 USF powers past Cardinals

If the University of South Florida is capable of producing a better half than it did in the opening half against Ball State on Saturday night, coach Skip Holtz hasn’t seen it.

Following a pregame video montage and moment of silence in honor of Lee Roy Selmon, the emotionally charged Bulls won the coin toss and chose to kick the ball away to open the game. Running on kickoff coverage, linebackers Mike Jeune and Armando Sanchez set the tone for the night, forcing a fumble that defensive back Mark Joyce would carry 17 yards into the endzone.

That score, which came just eight seconds into the game, tied the school record for fastest touchdown. Then-No. 22 USF would never look back, easing into a 37-7 win over the visiting Cardinals in front of 45,113 fans at Raymond James Stadium.

“I thought the first half was probably, outside of redzone productivity, was probably the most complete half of a football game that we’ve played since I’ve been here,” Holtz said. “I thought that was pretty impressive, the first half.”

Despite the early score produced by special teams, it was USF redshirt junior quarterback B.J. Daniels who stole the spotlight as the Bulls rolled to a 30-0 halftime lead. Ten Bulls would catch a pass in the game.

Daniels got off to a quick start, connecting on all six pass attempts on the opening drive and spreading the ball around to five different receivers.

By the time Daniels left the game for good in the third quarter, he had gone 28-for-39 for 359 yards and one touchdown, posting career highs in completions, attempts and yards.

“It feels good (to set personal records), but it feels even better to get the win,” Daniels said. “I’m just doing, honestly, what I can to move the ball and doing what the coaches ask of me.”

Daniels wasn’t the only offensive player to post a personal record, as the Bulls posted 519 yards of total offense. Wide receivers Victor Marc (81) and Terrence Mitchell (60), as well as tight end Andreas Shields (55), all set personal highs for yardage.

On the ground, the two-back tandem of Demetris Murray and Darrell Scott, along with the scrambling efforts of Daniels, produced more than 147 rushing yards. Scott led the way with 82 yards on 11 carries, including a highlight 31-yard run in the third quarter, on which he hurdled over a diving Ball State defender.

While Holtz said he was happy with Scott’s production, he joked he wasn’t necessarily happy with how Scott used his 6-foot-1, 245-pound frame.

“I don’t know if he’s trying to become a hurdle champion or what he’s trying to do, but when you’re 245 pounds, you run through people, you don’t jump over them,” he said.

Scott was all smiles after the game, as he continues his return to football after sitting out last season following his transfer from Colorado.

“I’m still shaking off the rust,” Scott said. “Tonight was a great example of getting comfortable with the offense. I think we jelled pretty good.”

With USF’s backups playing for most of the second half, Ball State scored early in the fourth quarter to take a shutout away from the USF defense, which yielded just 225 yards and produced four fumbles, three of which they recovered.

The win moved USF up two spots to No. 20 in the Associated Press poll and up five spots to No. 22 in the USA Today/Coaches poll. The Bulls will host Florida A&M at Raymond James Stadium Saturday night as they continue a three-game home stand.