UT-Chattanooga at USF
Bulls Open At Home With Win Over FCS Mocs
Eager for the kickoff of the 2012 football season, 41,285 USF fans showed up at Raymond James Stadium for the season opener against FCS member UT-Chattanooga.
Picked by many to finish first in the Big East, the Bulls entered the game on a 3-game losing streak hangover from 2011 - a streak that left them in the conference basement at just 1-6 in league play and 5-7 overall. The 34-13 victory over the Mocs on Saturday night cured that ill while probably creating some anxiety about the rest of the season.
The win wasn't completely dominating, or even inspiring, given that Chattanooga plays in the Southern Conference where it was 5-6 a year ago. In its lone game vs. a FBS opponent in 2011, the Mocs were routed 40-7 at Nebraska.
But a win is a win and this one was never really in doubt.
USF received the opening kick-off and began the initial drive at their own 22. B.J. Daniels fired a 16-yard completion to Evan Landi for 18 yards on the season's first play, but the Bulls then went 3-and-out.
Never fear as the USF defense flexed its muscle early and forced UT-C to punt from just outside its own goal line. A 22-yard return by Terrence Mitchell put the Bulls in business at the Mocs 23 and, six plays later, Demetris Murray blasted over from 2 yards out to give the No. 52 Bulls (Congrove Computer Rankings) a 7-0 lead with 7:41 to go in the opening period.
The Mocs' next possession also ended after a 3-and-out and USF started its third drive of the game on its own 34 with 5:41 left in period number one. But Chattanooga forced a USF fumbled on 1st down and Derrick Lott recovered to put the visitors in business at the USF 25. Despite the excellent field position, a relentless USF defense held Chattanooga to a career-best 39-yard FG by Nick Pollard that made it 7-3 Bulls with 3:39 to go in the 1st.
After an exchange of punts, the Bulls took over at the UT-C 44 and Daniels needed just five plays and 2:09 to forge a 14-3 lead when a 3rd-and 12-pass found Derrick Hopkins (first career TD reception) all alone in the left side of the end zone.
The Chattanooga offense finally found some success on their next possession, advancing the ball to their own 47 and forcing the Bulls to start at their own 20 after a punt. From there, Daniels once again struck quickly when he teamed up with Terrence Mitchell, also for his first career touchdown catch, on a 48-yard bomb that made it 20-3 USF with 7:27 to play in the first half.
Maikon Bonani set a new scoring record with the PAT giving him 247 career points. He would end the night with 249.
UT-C responded with a drive to the Bulls' 5, but a scoring run around right end by QB Jacob Huesman was negated by a holding call and put the Mocs back on the 12. Huesman was sacked on the following play to bring up a 4th-and-goal from the 23 and Potter missed a field goal attempt from 40 yards out.
Looking to bust the game open before halftime, USF went to the air. The strategy backfired as Daniels was intercepted two plays later by D.J. Key. His 43-yard return to the 4-yard line set up Keon Williams 2-yard TD run to cut the gap to 21-10 at the break.
When play resumed for the second half, Daniels wasted little time getting that score back with a 39-yard strike to Sterling Griffin just four-and-a-half minutes into the third quarter.
Still, USF couldn't build on the momentum.
Later in the quarter - sparked by the rushing and passing of Huesman, and aided by a penalty on the Bulls for a helmet-to-helmet hit - the Mocs drove 41 yards for a 46-yard field goal by Henrique Ribeiro. The kick bounced off the top of the crossbar and fell good to pull UT-C back to within two touchdowns at 27-13 with 28 seconds remaining in the 3rd quarter.
Ultimately, the USF defense prevailed by the shutting the door on the Mocs for the rest of the night. When Daniels' scrambled 20 yards for the final score with 9:52 left in the game, the Bulls lead was extended to 34-13 and it was clear that this contest was over.
USF outgained Tennessee-Chattanooga 369-151 while Daniels passed for 265 yards and accounted for all but one of USF's five scores. He tossed TD passes to three different receivers - Hopkins, Mitchell and Griffin.
USF now travels to Nevada to face a Wolf pack team that is fresh off a 31-24 upset win at California. After that, the Bulls return home to face Rutgers, the only Big East member they have defeated at home in the last two seasons.