After losing four straight games, the USF football team finally found a way to win Friday at Syracuse.
Armed with a ground game missing its starter, running back Darrell Scott, and powered by coaches making some gutsy calls – including coach Skip Holtz’s decision to go for it on a fourth-and-one play – the Bulls got their first victory since the month of September, protecting a fourth quarter lead en route to a 37-17 win.
“I’m really excited for these players to have the opportunity to enjoy a win when they’ve been working so hard,” Holtz said. “They’ve been so diligent in going out there and working everyday and they want to be good. They want to be better. Just to see the pain in their faces the last three weeks, and then have the opportunity to go in that locker room and celebrate was nice.”
The Bulls (5-4, 1-4) staved off Syracuse by generating 490 total yards on offense, with junior quarterback B.J. Daniels accounting for 371 of those yards. Coming into the game, it looked as if USF’s offense might miss Scott, the team’s leading rusher, but Daniels shouldered the burden of his absence, getting 117 yards on the ground.
USF’s defense also played a pivotal role in the Bulls’ first Big East win of the season, including two timely red zone stops in the fourth quarter.
USF was up by 10 points at halftime, courtesy of rushing touchdowns by Daniels and Marcus Shaw and a pair of Maikon Bonani field goals. The team hasn’t fared well with second-half leads.
The Bulls had squandered double-digit leads in each of the last two games and it looked like it could happen again, when Syracuse began driving early in the fourth quarter. But, the Bulls defense got a few key goal-line stops, stopping the Orange three times in the red zone on the same drive: twice when Syracuse was on the two-yard line and another time when Syracuse went for it on fourth down. On the Orange’s next possession, they reached the USF 13-yard line, but missed again on another fourth-down play.
The Bulls sealed the win with an 83-yard touchdown drive, which was sparked by a Daniels’ 30-yard run. The drive led to Murray’s second touchdown of the game, this time a two-yard score.
Following the Bulls’ return to practice Sunday, Holtz said the team’s attitude was noticeably more upbeat.
“They’re working just as hard, they’re just more upbeat,” he said. “There’s more laughs and guys are joking around. There’s a much more jovial atmosphere around the place.”
USF needs one more win out of its three remaining games, all at home, to become bowl-eligible. The Bulls face Miami on Saturday before playing Louisville and West Virginia to close the season.