TAMPA, Fla. -- Maybe B.J. Daniels needed a little time to warm up after being sidelined for a game and a half with a shoulder injury.The South Florida quarterback, whose playing status was to be a game-time decision, started Thursday night's game against West Virginia but for the longest time everyone at Raymond James Stadium had to be wondering why.In the first quarter and a half, here were Daniels' numbers: 13 attempts, three completions, 8 yards and an interception returned for a touchdown by WVU's Pat Miller.Still, USF coach Skip Holtz stuck with the junior and eventually he began performing like himself. Although he steadfastly refused to run with the ball in the first half, Daniels got hot at the end of the half and completed eight of his last 10 passes for 99 yards and a touchdown.
"I felt all right. Not 100 percent,'' Daniels said. "I tried to do what I could.''He tried valiantly in the second half, too. It was Daniels' 1-yard quarterback sneak that gave the Bulls a 20-20 tie with 10 minutes to play. When JaQuez Jenkins intercepted a Geno Smith screen pass on the next play from scrimmage and ran it back for a touchdown, USF led 27-20.In the second half, Daniels took more chance running the ball and continued throwing much better, leading the Bulls back from every deficit they encountered right up until the end. But in the end, it was another mistake of his that was most costly. He was stripped of the ball with just over three minutes to play and the Bulls on the fringe of field goal range just inside the Mountaineer 30.West Virginia eventually drove for Tyler Bitancurt's 28-yard field goal and a 30-27 win on the last play of the game."We were in position to win, potentially run the clock out and win on a field goal,'' Daniels said. "It's on my mind.''nn
Fate did West Virginia no favors in the first quarter when defensive lineman Julian Miller went down with a left ankle injury. It was the same ankle he injured on the last play of a 21-20 win over Pitt a week ago.
By that point, USF tailback Darrell Scott had run seven times for 51 yards already and was the Bulls' best offensive weapon. The last thing the Mountaineers needed was to lose one of their best defensive linemen. A week earlier, Miller had 12 tackles and four sacks in a 21-20 win over Pitt."I thought I was done,'' Miller said. "But Dave [Kerns] and the trainers worked their magic. I don't feel anything right now, but I'm sure I will tomorrow.''But Bruce Irvin and Will Clarke filled the end spots around nose guard Jorge Wright and the Mountaineers didn't miss a beat, at least as far as defending the rush was concerned in the immediate aftermath of Miller's injury.After Miller left the game, South Florida ran for just 32 yards the remainder of the half, all but 10 of those on an end-around by a wide receiver, Lindsey Lamar. Miller returned to the game later in the second half.
To virtually no one's surprise, it was Devon Brown back to receive punts for West Virginia instead of Tavon Austin Thursday night.Austin, of course, made a huge play with a return, but it was a 90-yard kickoff runback for a touchdown, his second of the season."It was all the blocking,'' Austin said. "I hit the sideline and made a couple of moves, but that was about it. Everything else was blocking.''But as important as that kickoff return was, punt returns have been a mixed bag for the little speedster all season.Austin ranks fourth in the country in punt returns, averaging 14.1 yards, but that's only on the ones he has returned. Opponents have punted the ball 68 times this season and Austin, while lining up deep on all but a handful of those, has run back only 19. The others have been fair catches or -- more glaringly -- punts on which he signaled a fair catch and then couldn't get to it or let it bounce.
That put West Virginia's offense in poor field position far more times than an Austin return enhanced field position. And then a week ago against Pitt, Austin dropped a punt and Pitt recovered. Brown replaced him after that and remained in the position against USF.For the record, Brown let South Florida's first punt drop. But it bounced backward and netted only 24 yards. Later in the game he would call for a fair catch and let a ball drop and roll behind him into the end zone. Statistically he did not have a punt return against the Bulls. Fair catches don't count as returns.Then again, who really needed a punt returner? West Virginia obviously saw something in wanted to attack in South Florida's punt protection, going hard after punter Justin Brockhaus-Kann right from the start. It worked, too, when Willie Milhouse, who was named one of the team captains before the game, blocked a second-quarter punt that led to a Bitancurt field goal.nn
BRIEFLY: You knew it had to end eventually for Corey Smith, who was perfect in last week's win over Pitt, averaging 57 yards a punt. Well, his first punt against USF was angled and rolled out of bounds at the USF 7, but his second near midfield sailed out of bounds for just 20 yards and his third went 33 yards and bounced backwards. For the night he punted four times and averaged 32 yards.| Speaking of kicking woes, Bitancurt missed his first attempt of the night, a 38-yarder that smacked into an upright and bounced back on the field. It was Bitancurt's fifth miss in his last six attempts after beginning the season 12-of-13. But then he made three in a row, including the game winner.| Quinton Spain and Curtis Feigt started the game at right guard and right tackle, respectively, just as they finished the Pitt game. But Tyler Rader and Pat Eger, the players they replaced in the lineup, both saw action as early as the first half.| Back to punt returns. South Florida had given up -- this is not a typo -- just three punt return yards all season. West Virginia got 16. How? When Milhouse blocked that punt, it went backward and Ricky Kovatch recovered 16 yards behind the point of the block. Those are return yards.| Austin, by the way, passed Steve Slaton's 2006 school record of 2,104 all-purpose yards in a season during the first quarter.| West Virginia was outgained in total yardage 397-364, only the second time that's happened this season (Syracuse was the first). South Florida also converted 10 of 19 third downs while WVU converted an awful two of 14. But the Mountaineers were three-for-three on fourth-down tries.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com