USF Senior Writer
TAMPA – The big-play Bulls kept up their rep Saturday night and rolled to the 4-0 mark to start the season.
No. 17 USF scored touchdowns on plays of 50 yards or more three separate times in a 52-24 victory over UTEP before a crowd of 39,628 at Raymond James Stadium.
The Bulls had seven plays of 50 yards or more all of last season and already have five through four games in 2011.
"I'm really proud of some of the big plays," head coach Skip Holtz said.
USF’s ground game trampled the UTEP defense for 373 rushing yards and fell just short of the school’s previous single-game record (377).
It marked the second consecutive game the Bulls have rushed for more than 200 yards.
"It's good to see see it continue on," offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said.
Quarterback B.J. Daniels played a big role in the offensive outburst by running for a 71-yard score and throwing for a 54-yard touchdown. The redshirt junior recorded the sixth 100-plus yard rushing game of his USF career and also passed the 1,000-yard passing mark this season in the victory.
"I was just taking advantage of what the defense was giving us," said Daniels, who rushed for 130 yards and threw for 202 and two scores.
The Bulls’ ability to make it happen with the ball translated into a 31-17 halftime lead and the fireworks got started early.
USF has scored in the first four minutes in each of its four games this season and Daniels’ legs made the latest installment memorable.
Following a UTEP punt to open the game, Daniels’ kept the ball himself, ran to the right and weaved through tacklers all the way to the left sideline for the 71-yard score. It marked the longest run of his career and the fourth-longest in the history of USF football.
The Bulls’ lead didn’t last long, however.
UTEP’s Vernon Frazier returned the ensuing kickoff 67 yards and the Miners got into the end zone four plays later on a 4-yard run by Leilyon Myers almost five minutes into the first quarter.
The tie didn’t last long either.
Daniels got back to work and orchestrated a 10-play, 78-yard drive was capped off by a 3-yard scoring run by Darrell Scott.
USF wide receivers deserved much credit on the drive.
Sterling Griffin made a diving 11-yard catch to move the chains on a third down inside Bulls territory. Andreas Shields caught an 11-yard pass in double coverage on UTEP’s side of the field and Deonte Welch tip-toed just inside the left sideline for a 21-yard reception that set the Bulls up for Scott’s score.
Daniels ended up completing eight of 10 passes for 107 yards in the half.
USF went back to a steady helping of running on its third drive and found the end zone yet again. Demetris Murray, who busted a 31-yard run earlier in the 89-yard drive, scored from 1 yard out to help put Bulls ahead, 21-7, with 2:38 remaining in the first quarter.
Lindsey Lamar also had an 18-yard run and a 9-yard streak into the red zone on the drive that helped put USF over the 170-yard rushing mark for the quarter. Daniels already was up to 89 yards rushing by the start of the second quarter.
UTEP’s defense might have been shell-shocked, but its offense continued to keep the Miners in the game.
After Murray’s score, UTEP (2-2) again struck back with an 88-yard scoring drive of its own that was completed when quarterback Carson Meger hit Anthony McGee for a 24-yard strike.
The Bulls only needed 34 seconds to bring their lead back to 14 points.
Victor Marc took an option pitch to the right on the first play of USF’s fourth drive, broke a tackle and zigzagged his way down the left side of the field for a 67-yard scoring run. His highlight reel run marked USF’s fourth play of more than 60 yards in the past two games.
USF’s fifth drive of the game didn’t produce a touchdown, but the Bulls were all good with Bonani’s 38-yard field goal that pumped their lead up to 31-14 with 7:37 remaining in the half.
UTEP wasn’t so lucky on special teams on its drive before Bonani’s boot. Dakota Warren missed on a 32-yard field goal attempt that set the Bulls up for Marc to record his longest play as a Bull.
USF’s offense had 370 yards of offense (263 rushing) heading into halftime.
The Bulls’ defense came out revived after the break to force a UTEP punt and then played its own hand in setting USF up for a score.
Senior cornerback Kayvon Webster picked off a Meger pass and Daniels reignited USF’s offense when he hit Lamar for a 54-yard touchdown pass to help the Bulls hit the 38-point mark.
The speedy Lamar did most of the work by getting past coverage to haul in the pass. The 5-foot-9, 172-pounder also showed high toughness by bouncing off a tackler inside the 10 and dodging two more Miners on the way to the end zone for his first-career touchdown reception.
Lamar’s big gainer marked USF’s 16th player of 20 yards or more this season.
UTEP used one of those types of plays to keep things interesting after Lamar’s score. Meger fooled USF with play action long enough to hit Kevin Perry on a 25-yard touchdown pass cut USF’s lead to 38-24 with 4:21 remaining in the third quarter.
Things stayed that way until the USF defense came up with another clutch takeaway with less than 10 minutes remaining in the game. Defensive tackle Cory Grissom hit Meger, whose deflected pass was intercepted by Ricardo Dixon at the USF 40.
Like Webster, Dixon’s pick jumpstarted the USF offense that put the game away with another 20-plus yard play. Daniels again found Lamar, who leaped into the end zone for a 20-yard scoring reception that ended UTEP’s comeback chances with 6:46 left in the game.
Lamar’s catch and sprint helped Daniels increase his passing yards total to 1,071 yards this season.
Linebacker Sam Barrington put an exclamation mark on the Bulls’ victory by returning his first-career interception 30 yards to help USF pass the 50-point mark for the second straight game.
USF's next game isn't far off and it's a big one. The Bulls play their Big East opener at Pittsburgh on Thursday night in a nationally televised contest on ESPN.
"The nonconference is a warmup and now we're playing for real," defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. "I know our kids are excited about it."