South Florida’s B.J. Daniels gave West Virginia fits with his arm and his feet.
The entertaining redshirt freshman quarterback threw for 232 yards and rushed for 104 more to account for more offense than the 20th-ranked Mountaineers managed as a team in the Bulls’ 30-19 victory Friday night.
Daniels threw for three touchdowns, and the Bulls rebounded from two subpar defensive performances to frustrate West Virginia running back Noel Devine and beat their Big East rival for the third time in four years.
The Bulls (6-2, 2-2) allowed 75 points and 887 yards in conference losses to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh the previous two weeks, yet found a way to hold Devine to his lowest rushing total of the season.
In stopping their two-game slide, they hope they have pulled out of a funk that contributed to midseason swoons that also followed promising starts that lifted them into the Top 25 in 2007 and 2008.
“I guess a lot of people doubted us and thought we were going to go down the same patch we did the last two years,” said Daniels, who had 336 yards total offense to West Virginia’s 323. “That was a lot of garbage that our team didn’t listen to.”
West Virginia (6-2, 2-1) drove 80 yards after the opening kickoff to take a 7-0 lead, but never really got into a rhythm offensively.
“There’s some young hurting guys in there, both physically and mentally. And they should be,” West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said. “That was a hard-fought game. I cannot fault our effort.”
Daniels threw TD passes of 49 yards to Carlton Mitchell, 11 yards to A.J. Love and 6 yards to Sterling Griffin. Eric Schwartz’s third field goal, a 44-yarder 3 minutes into the fourth quarter put the Bulls up 30-19.
Jarrett Brown scored on runs of 3 and 11 yards, however West Virginia’s senior quarterback had sporadic success throwing against a defense geared to stop the run.
Devine, who grew up 2 hours south of Tampa, was limited to 42 yards on 17 carries in what was a homecoming of sorts for him and a number of other Mountaineers from Florida, including Brown and leading receiver Jock Sanders.
Devine entered averaging 130.3 per game – third in the nation – and 89 shy of topping 1,000 for the second straight season.
“We talked a lot about him,” South Florida coach Jim Leavitt said. “We didn’t want to let him get outside – we wanted to keep him hemmed up inside. … He’s such a great back. If he gets out, he’s gone.”
Down two scores in the fourth quarter, the Mountaineers were forced to throw on virtually every down. Brown finished 19 of 32 for 205 yards and one interception, while Devine only carried the ball twice in the fourth quarter.
In a come-from-behind victory over Connecticut last week, the speedy 5-foot-7, 176-pound Devine set up one second-half touchdown with a 62-yard run, then scored the winning TD on a 56-yard burst.
West Virginia was trying to remain unbeaten in the Big East, along with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. The Mountaineers lost to South Florida in 2006 and 2007 and have lost three of five games overall in the budding rivalry.
Daniels improved to 3-2 since replacing Big East career total offense leader Matt Grothe, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the third week of the season. He kept West Virginia offbalance with his mobility and made some of his biggest throws while scrambling to buy time.
“They were expecting me to run once I got outside the pocket, so a lot of the DB’s had their eyes on me, and our guys got behind them,” Daniels said.
Besides his 49-yard catch for a touchdown, Mitchell nearly scored on a 69-yard reception. Officials ruled he was pushed out of bounds at the West Virginia 9 as he tightroped up the sideline and into the end zone.
Three plays later, Daniels rolled to his right and – looking like a threat to run – found Love wide open for an 11-yard TD pass as the Mountaineers converged on him as he broke containment.
Daniels also had a 45-yard completion to Love and finished 13 of 26 without an interception.
“We haven’t seen a guy like that (this year), but at the same time that’s no excuse for our defense,” West Virginia safety Robert Sands said. “We’ve still got to go out there and make plays. He broke contain too many times, and he burned us.”