TAMPA – Elkino Watson jogged through the tunnel with a smile on
his face, his helmet in one hand and a valuable possession in the other – a
The defensive tackle’s interception with less than a
minute remaining sealed USF’s 13-6 victory over UConn on Saturday night before
a crowd of 36,190 at Raymond James Stadium. The Bulls snapped a six-game losing
streak thanks in large part to a defense that forced three turnovers, posted
four sacks and held the Huskies to just two field goals.
“I couldn’t have written a better script to see the
defense come in and hold Connecticut to six points and be able to secure the
win at the end of the game,” head coach Skip Holtz said.
The Bulls (3-6, 1-4) won the game, but they suffered a
huge loss when senior quarterback B.J. Daniels went down with what Holtz said
is “likely” a broken left ankle that will end his season.
“Part of your heart is broken for a young man that has
competed his tail off and given everything he’s had to this university the last
four years,” said Holtz after seeing Daniels get helped off the field in the
Injuries have taken quite a toll on USF on both sides of
the ball, but the Bulls’ defense still found a way to turn in its best
performance of the season. USF scored six points following two UConn turnovers,
including the Bulls’ first interception of the season that was snatched up by
safety Jon Lejiste with less than 7 minutes remaining.
Before the celebration and Daniels’ injury, the USF
offense was the first unit to find success against the Huskies (3-6, 0-4).
The Bulls flustered USF using a hurry-up offense during
an 80-yard scoring drive that allowed Daniels to make USF history. The senior
quarterback ran 5 yards into the end zone with 4:08 left in the first quarter
to become the program’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns with 25. Daniels
came into the game in a tie with Andre Hall, who rushed for 24 scores at USF
Daniels went 8-for-10 for 77 yards through the air in the
first quarter and his 82 total yards moved him into second place in total
offense at USF. Marquel Blackwell previously was in second with 10,343 yards
The Bulls went into the locker room with a 7-3 lead after
keeping Huskies punter Cole Wagner busy in the first half. UConn was forced to
punt on five of its first six drives until Chad Christen’s 50-yard field goal
got the Huskies on the scoreboard with 2 seconds remaining before halftime.
UConn had only 2 rushing yards in the opening half and
went 1-for-6 on third down with USF’s DeDe Lattimore and Todd Chandler both
sacking Chandler Whitmer to force punts.
The Huskies moved the ball inside the USF 30 for the
first time more than midway through the third quarter and cut USF’s lead to 7-6
with a 37-yard field goal by Christen. The kick marked UConn’s first points in
the second half of a game since Lyle McCombs’ 2-yard TD run against Buffalo on
The score remained the same until the fourth quarter when
Maikon Bonani connected on a 28-yard field goal attempt with 7:53 remaining.
The drive was made possible thanks to a fumble recovery by freshman linebacker
Tashon Whitehurst, who jumped on a mishandled handoff by McCombs at the UConn 38.
“Some of the young guys really stepped up,” Holtz said.
The injury bug continued to bite USF on the drive,
however, when Daniels injured his ankle running 15 yards to the UConn 8. USF
already was without scoring threats Lindsey Lamar, Evan Landi and Derrick
Hopkins heading into the game.
USF was able to protect the lead on UConn’s next drive
when Lejiste got his hands on a deep ball attempt by the Huskies.
“All I could think was just don’t drop the ball,” Lejiste
Bonani extended the Bulls’ lead to 13-6 with a 50-yard
field goal with 4:26 to play. The senior was named Big East Special Teams
Player of the Week after setting a USF record with 18 points scored against
Syracuse (5-for-5 in field goal attempts).
“All season long he’s been huge. He’s been money,” Holtz
UConn had more than 4 minutes to tie the game up, but
USF’s defense finished the job when Watson intercepted a tipped pass by
Chandler at the Bulls’ own 23-yard line.
“It took a defensive lineman to get the interception to
win the game, but we’ll take it any way we can get it,” Holtz said.
USF gets its second bye week of the season to
heal up before traveling to Miami to face the Hurricanes on Saturday, Nov. 17.