South Florida 34, Syracuse 20
Daniels hit Carlton Mitchell with an 85-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the second half to break open a one-point game. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul returned an interception 18 yards for another score, and the Bulls remained unbeaten, 34-20 over the mistake-prone Orange on Saturday in the Big East opener for both teams.
"I had to put some points on the board," said Daniels, who a week ago led the Bulls to a stunning 17-7 win at Florida State in his first college start. "Carlton just came open deep, the corner was cheating inside, and I hit him long."
Syracuse (2-3) had won two straight behind Paulus, who entered the game completing nearly 70 percent of his passes. But against one of the top defenses in the country the former Duke point guard faltered, throwing five interceptions as the Orange committed seven turnovers.
Paulus finished 25 for 46 for 269 yards, was sacked three times, and equaled the school mark for interceptions set by Todd Norley in a 28-7 loss at Penn State in 1982.
"I don't think I've had five interceptions before," said Paulus, a star quarterback in high school in Syracuse. "I've had eight, nine, 10 turnovers in basketball. You just can't do that against a good opponent. You start to press a little bit. It's all on me."
Daniels' strike to Mitchell gave South Florida a 21-13 lead, but Paulus guided the Orange right back down the field to the USF 21, converting on third-and-long situations three straight times. But the fourth third down of the drive led to another turnover when Pierre-Paul hit Paulus' throwing arm as he released the ball and Kayvon Webster intercepted.
Daniels then guided USF on a 48-yard scoring drive capped by Mike Ford's 5-yard run.
Pierre-Paul made his critical interception on the Orange's next possession, laying back at the line of scrimmage on first down.
"I saw it and I grabbed it," said Pierre-Paul, who scored untouched. "I was waiting and I was surprised."
"I didn't see him," said Paulus, who had touchdown throws of 11 and 29 yards to Mike Williams. "They brought pressure. I thought I could throw it over the pressure. I probably should have thrown the ball away. We'll learn from this. Sometimes, you have to have an experience like this to take a couple of steps forward."
Since joining the Big East, the Bulls are 22-5 out of conference, with wins over Auburn, Florida State, Kansas, North Carolina and North Carolina State. In conference, they are only 15-14 and have never finished better than 4-3.
The lone exception has been Syracuse. South Florida is 5-0 against the Orange, having beaten them by a combined 174-53. But this one was by far the most difficult because, even though the Bulls scored four times off SU turnovers, they also lost three fumbles.
"We needed all of them for us to win that game," South Florida head coach Jim Leavitt said. "You can't imagine how difficult it was for him (Daniels) to come in here today, after the game he had last week with all the pressure, and face a group that defended him well. He kept his head about him and finished the game out, and that is pretty impressive."
Ford also scored on a 26-yard run in the first quarter and Mitchell caught a 33-yard TD pass from Daniels in the second.
The first 5 minutes of the game featured five turnovers. Syracuse lost two fumbles and Paulus was intercepted deep in USF territory. Orange nose tackle Arthur Jones recovered fumbles by the Bulls on their first two plays from scrimmage. Daniels fumbled his first snap of the game and wideout Dontavia Bogan lost another fumble right after Nate Allen picked off a Paulus pass at the USF 17.
"It was like high school after the first five minutes," said Daniels, who was 12 for 20 for 208 yards and gained 32 yards rushing. "I guess our focus wasn't all the way there."
The Bulls settled down after their shaky start. Mitchell had six catches for 139 yards, more than offsetting another stellar performance by his counterpart on the Orange. Williams had a career-high 13 catches for 186 yards for Syracuse.