by Tom Zebold
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA – Kicks were all Miami could manage against a dominant USF defense, but two kicks were all it took Saturday.
Jake Wieclaw’s 36-yard field goal as time expired helped the Hurricanes escape Tampa with a 6-3 victory over the Bulls before a crowd of 57,572 at Raymond James Stadium, USF’s sixth-largest at the venue.
The game featured 17 punts with the USF defense forcing eight and coming up just one sack short of the school record with six. Senior defensive tackle Keith McCaskill led the way with two, while linebacker DeDe Lattimore had 1.5 and the Bulls (5-5) held the Hurricanes out of the end zone for the 38-plus minutes they had the ball.
“It was a 12-round, toe-to-toe (battle), standing in the center of the ring with two great defenses battling each other,” USF head coach Skip Holtz said.
Unfortunately for USF, its offense failed to get into the red zone and couldn’t muster a second straight win over Miami with backup quarterback Bobby Eveld behind center for most of the second half after starter B.J. Daniels exited the game with a shoulder strain.
“It was a frustrating night. We didn’t do a good enough job,” offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said.
The series’ fourth installment started about as crazy as it ended with two turnovers occurring in the first minute of play.
Miami turned the ball over the on the second play from scrimmage when defensive end Patrick Hampton stripped receiver Travis Benjamin and linebacker Mike Lanaris recovered it in Hurricanes territory.
The Hurricanes got the ball right back on the very next play when Daniels overthrew a receiver and was intercepted by Brandon McGee.
The teams traded punts before Miami struck first with a 77-yard drive that took almost 7 minutes off the clock late in the first quarter. Harris evaded a furious USF pass rush numerous times to help the Hurricanes convert three third downs, and Miami took a 3-0 lead on a 26-yard field goal by Wieclaw with 2:08 to go in the opening period.
It marked the first time this season that the Bulls have not scored first, but it didn’t take them long to tie it up.
Maikon Bonani nailed a 42-yard field goal just over a minute into the second quarter to cap off a 49-yard drive that was highlighted by a pair of 15-yard catches from Andre Davis and Victor Marc.
That was all the points USF’s largest crowd of the season saw before the break, as both teams combined for five more punts.
The Bulls’ special teams and defense played a big hand in keeping the game tied in USF’s first home game since Oct. 22 against Cincinnati.
One of Justin Brockhaus-Kann’s three punts was downed at the Miami 1 thanks to a diving catch by George Baker with 6:44 to play before the half.
Miami threatened on its last drive before the break, making it to the Bulls’ 31, but a delay of game penalty and a sack by Lattimore resulted in an 8-yard loss to take the Hurricanes out of field goal range.
It marked Lattimore’s team-leading sixth sack of the season and the redshirt sophomore had five tackles (two for losses) at the break. Lattimore came into the game as the Bulls’ top tackler with 66 and added 10 to his total against Miami.
The Bulls’ road to points got difficult in the third quarter when Daniels exited the game on USF’s second drive after absorbing a hard hit on a quarterback keeper. The redshirt junior did not return and sat on the sideline with ice on his throwing shoulder.
Daniels was down, but the USF defense certainly wasn’t out and came up with its biggest stop of the game with 2:21 left in the third quarter. Miami marched down to the Bulls’ 15, but McCaskill came up with a sack and Ryne Giddins stepped up to block a 41-yard field goal attempt by Wieclaw.
“I saw some surface area and I pushed right through,” Giddins said.
The momentum wasn’t enough to get the USF offense going, however, and Eveld failed to mount the rally he did last year in a 23-20 overtime win at Miami. The sophomore completed five of nine passes for 36 yards, while the Hurricanes clogged running lanes to stop the Bulls in short yardage situations in key moments.
“We weren’t able to get any consistency or get any momentum going from an offensive standpoint,” Holtz said.
Harris and Miami had just enough to get the winning points, driving 61 yards in 14 plays to set up Wieclaw for the game winner. Harris finished 27 of 35 for 259 yards and avoided the big mistakes he’s made in the past to make the Hurricanes (6-5) bowl eligible.
“I think he played like a senior quarterback should,” Holtz said.
The Bulls will try to become bowl eligible themselves Friday when they host Louisville at 11 a.m. back at Raymond James Stadium.