By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - USF's season opener wasn't perfect, but the Bulls produced plenty of fireworks in a 34-13 win over Chattanooga on Saturday night before a crowd of 41,285 at Raymond James Stadium.
B.J. Daniels threw three touchdown passes and ran for another score to help USF improve to 11-0 when opening the season on its home turf. The Bulls' senior quarterback went 17-for-26 for 225 yards despite throwing an interception and losing a fumble that led to 10 points for Chattanooga.
USF's defense definitely held up its end of the bargain by registering six sacks and holding the Mocs to 151 total yards of offense on 63 plays. Junior defensive end Ryne Giddins came up with 1.5 sacks in Chattanooga's first three plays on offense.
The Bulls are now 12-4 in season openers and improved the program's all-time home record to 73-25 since it started in 1997.
Giddins' Early Impact: Defensive end Ryne Giddins posted a sack on the Mocs' first play from scrimmage and added a half sack during Chattanooga's first drive of the game.
7-0 Bulls (7:41): Senior Demetris Murray scored the first points of USF's season with a 2-yard touchdown run. Maikon Bonani's extra point left him one point away from tying the Bulls' career points record.
Mocs Chip Away: Defensive end Davis Tull forced a fumble while sacking B.J. Daniels and set Chattanooga up with the ball at the USF 25 with 5:33 remaining in the first quarter. Nick Pollard cut the Mocs' deficit to 7-3 with a 39-yard field goal (3:39).
Bulls Strike Quickly: Chattanooga's fourth punt of the day set USF up at the Mocs' 44 and B.J. Daniels went to work. The senior QB was 4-for-4 through the air and connected with Derrick Hopkins for a 19-yard touchdown (USF 14, Chatt. 3, 12:44). It was Hopkins' first-career touchdown and capped off drive that took only five plays.
History Is Made: Daniels' second TD toss of the half was a 38-yard strike to Terrence Mitchell. Bonani's extra point made it 21-3 (7:27) and gave him the USF record for career points (247), one ahead of Santiago Gramatica.
USF 'D' Comes Up Big Again: DeDe Lattimore and Julius Forte's sack of quarterback Jacob Huesman stalled a very promising Chattanooga drive late in the quarter. The Mocs drove from their 25 all the way to having a first-and-goal at the Bulls' 4-yard line. Huesman was on the ground at the USF 23 five plays later and Pollard's 53-yard field goal attempt went wide right.
Mocs Cash in on Second Chance: Daniels' first interception of the season wound up in the hands of Mocs safety D.J. Key, who returned it to the USF 4. Chattanooga cut its deficit to 21-10 two plays later when Keon Williams scored from 2 yards out with 30 seconds remaining in the half.
First Half Recap: Big plays on offense and a ton more on defense helped USF grab a 21-10 halftime lead over Chattanooga during Saturday's season opener at Raymond James Stadium.
B.J. Daniels threw touchdown passes to Derrick Hopkins and Terrence Mitchell while going 13-for-16 for 164 yards. Daniels was intercepted late in the second half and the passing error set Chattanooga up for its lone touchdown.
The USF defense was the biggest story of the half, holding the Mocs to 92 total yards and sacking Chattanooga quarterbacks four times with two coming from defensive end Ryne Giddins.
USF kicker Maikon Bonani's three extra points gave him the Bulls' career points record previously held by former star kicker Santiago Gramatica (246 points).
Another Long One: Daniels bounced back with his third touchdown pass of the game, a 39-yard connection with Sterling Griffin to give the Bulls a 27-10 lead (10:35). The extra point try was never attempted because of a botched snap. Daniels was 15-for-18 for 247 yards, three scores and one pick after Griffin trotted into the end zone.
Mocs Stay Within Striking Distance: Freshman kicker Henrique Ribeiro's 46-yard field goal cut Chattanooga's deficit to 27-13 with 28 seconds remaining in the period. Ribeiro's kick hit the crossbar before sailing over it on his first attempt of the game.
Yards Hard to Come by for Chattanooga: The Mocs' offensive produced a total of 148 yards on 50 plays through three quarters for an average of 2.96 yards per play.
Welcome Back, T-Rex: Terrence Mitchell produced a 39-yard punt return that set USF up at the Mocs' 34 with 12:34 remaining in the game. Mitchell is back as the Bulls' primary punt returner after playing in just four games last season because of a concussion. Mitchell also had four catches for 69 yards and a score before the Bulls' offense got back to work after his big return.
Daniels' Dashing Run: Daniels took what looked like a sack for a big loss and turned it into a 20-yard scoring run that ended with the quarterback stretching out just enough to reach the goal line. The 21st rushing TD of Daniels' career put him into fourth place in USF's record books and helped give the Bulls a 34-13 lead with 9:52 remaining. Friday marked Daniels' 10th career game with at least one rushing TD and one passing TD.