By TOM ZEBOLD
TAMPA – The Bulls came as close to securing a win as a team could, only to watch Saturday’s game end in heartbreaking fashion.
Ryan Nassib threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Alex Lemon with 3 seconds remaining to help Syracuse escape Raymond James Stadium with a 37-36 win over USF a week after the Bulls lost to Louisville in similar fashion.
“I have a hole in my heart for so many players that went out and competed as hard as they did. We weren’t able to get it done,” USF head coach Skip Holtz said.
The final result spoiled a stellar effort by a USF rushing attack that racked up 369 of the team’s 552 yards of total offense. Senior Lindsey Lamar led the way with a career-high 145 yards on 10 carries before leaving the game with a chest injury.
Quarterback B.J. Daniels, now healthy, added 134 rushing yards and threw for 183 more on a night when he became only the eighth FBS player from a Florida school to record more than 10,000 yards of total offense.
“The coaching book says you’re not supposed to run for almost 370 yards and lose. But when you play pass defense the way we play pass defense it can make for a long day,” Holtz said.
Maikon Bonani set a career high with five field goals and his final kick through the uprights gave USF a 36-31 lead with 1:23 remaining in the game. Bonani wound up setting a new USF single-game record for points scored (18).
“He was awesome tonight,” Holtz said.
Nassib went 6-for-9 for 85 yards during the winning drive, and the redshirt senior finished 27 of 40 for 328 yards and four touchdowns. Nassib’s 19-yard pass to Marcus Sales got the Orange inside the USF 1 before the Bulls called a timeout with 6 seconds remaining. Nassib lined up in shotgun formation, rolled to his right and put the ball inside a tight window to Sales, who barely beat safety JaQuez Jenkins for the decisive score.
“Our pass defense is not where it needs to be,” Holtz said.
USF’s running game was a much different story.
Syracuse (4-4, 3-1) had not given up 100 yards on the ground against a Big East opponent all season before the Bulls posted 273 rushing yards in the first half. A 19-yard run by Daniels in the first quarter helped him pass the 10,000-yard mark and joined former Bulls QB Matt Grothe in the elite club.
USF (2-6, 0-4) started its ground attack right away by averaging 5 yards per carry on the game’s opening 75-yard scoring drive. Marcus Shaw got the Bulls deep into Orange territory with a 16-yard dash and Demetris Murray capped things off with a 1-yard scoring run. The rushing TD marked Murray’s 17th and moved him into a tie for seventh all-time at USF.
Ross Krautman cut USF’s lead to 7-3 with a 20-yard field goal on Syracuse’s opening drive before the Bulls continued to pound away. USF picked up nearly 10 yards per attempt on its second drive that was highlighted by a 19-yard scramble by Daniels before Bonani made a 35-yard field goal with 3:12 remaining in the first quarter.
USF rushed for a total of 89 yards in the first quarter against an Orange defense that was giving up just 35 yards per game in league play. UConn rushed for minus-6 yards in Syracuse’s 40-10 win its last time out on Oct. 19 at the Carrier Dome.
“To play the way we did was great. It was very promising,” said Murray of USF’s rushing attack.
The Bulls went well over 100 yards on the ground early in the second quarter when Daniels faked a handoff and ran 53 yards down to the Syracuse 16. Bonani made a 32-yard attempt to give USF a 13-3 advantage with 10:58 to play before the half.
USF seized control of the half more than midway through the second quarter with great play on both sides of the ball. Syracuse was kept out of the end zone after having a first-and-goal at the USF 4 and the drive stalled when Krautman missed a 22-yard field goal attempt.
The Bulls needed only one play to score after the turnover when Lamar ran a career-best 80 yards to help give the Bulls a 20-3 lead with 5:54 to go before the break. Lamar gained 110 yards on his first six carries and the long run put him over 100 yards for the second straight game.
“He’s a game-changing kind of guy and when he has the chance, that’s what he does,” Murray said.
USF pumped its lead up to 23-3 with 4 seconds left in the half thanks to a 46-yard field goal by Bonani.
What was a large lead at halftime turned into a deficit in a hurry for USF after the break.
Syracuse started its comeback effort in stride on the second half’s opening drive when Nassib hit Jarrod West for a 31-yard touchdown.
The Orange were back at it after blocking a Justin Brockhaus-Kann punt attempt on USF’s ensuing drive that set Syracuse up at the Bulls’ 45-yard line. Four plays later, Lemon ran 4 yards to the end zone to help cut Syracuse’s deficit to 23-17 with 8:55 remaining in the third quarter.
The momentum shift continued to go in Syracuse’s favor when Murray fumbled on the first snap of USF’s next drive and the Orange recovered it at the USF 23-yard line. Syracuse went ahead for the first time six plays later when Nassib threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Sales with 6:10 to play in the quarter.
USF fired back with a 38-yard pass by Daniels to Lamar to get into Syracuse territory and Bonani gave the lead back to the Bulls with a 41-yard field goal with 2:15 to play in a very busy third quarter.
Daniels’ 30-yard touchdown pass to Andre Davis helped give USF a 33-24 lead with 10:43 remaining, but Syracuse was far from finished. Nassib threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Sales and a Krautman extra point cut the Bulls’ lead to 33-31 with 7:17 remaining.
Nassib had little time to add a fourth TD toss after Bonani made his fifth field goal from 47 yards out with 1:23 remaining, but the Orange found a way to pull off their memorable comeback. Four of Nassib’s passes on the final drive went for 19 yards or more.
“We didn’t finish the game on defense like we should,” USF defensive coordinator Chris Cosh said. “… The players are competing and fighting. It hurts.”
USF concludes its two-game run at Raymond James Stadium Saturday, Nov. 3 against UConn. The game can be seen on ESPNU starting at 7 p.m.
- USF’s last two 100-yard rushers in a single game were Mike Ford (134 yards) and Aston Samuels (101) against Syracuse on Nov. 10, 2007.
- Lindsey Lamar posted consecutive 100-yard rushing games for the first time in his career.
- Lamar’s 80-yard scoring run in the first half was the second-largest in USF history. Other Bulls to accomplish the feat were Jermaine Clemons in 1997 and Matt Grothe in 2007. Rafael Williams owns the record after scoring from 86 yards out in 1998.
- Andre Davis is tied for second all-time at USF with six touchdown receptions in a single season.