CINCINNATI (AP) — B.J. Daniels’ about-face ended one of the Big East’s longest winning streaks.
The struggling sophomore quarterback had a breakout game, throwing for two touchdowns and running for two more, and South Florida got its first significant win under coach Skip Holtz, knocking off two-time defending Big East champion Cincinnati 38-30 on Friday night.
South Florida (4-3, 1-2) hadn’t scored a touchdown on offense in its last two games, done in by Daniels’ five interceptions. He had 10 interceptions overall.
No flubs in this one.
“It clicked pretty well on offense,” Daniels said. “To get that monkey off our backs was good. That touchdown was big, the first one we scored.”
He got the Bulls going by completing one long pass after another against Cincinnati’s inexperienced defense. The Bearcats (3-4, 1-1) have the youngest defense in the BCS with eight sophomore starters.
“That’s pretty much the story with us on defense — we made little mistakes that led to big problems,” middle linebacker J.K. Schaffer said. “We were a little frustrated because of all the big plays.”
Daniels’ 64-yard completion to Dontavia Bogan set up a third-quarter touchdown, and his 70-yard pass to Faron Hornes put the Bulls up 31-16 late in the third quarter.
The Bearcats had won 13 straight Big East games, tied for third-longest streak in league history. They hadn’t lost at Nippert Stadium since 2008.
They had a chance to keep the streak going in the closing minutes.
Zach Collaros threw three touchdown passes, going 30 of 53 — both career highs — for 463 yards with an interception. He took a hard hit late in the fourth quarter, leaving him with a stiff leg.
He was on the sideline for Cincinnati’s final drive, which ended with Chazz Anderson’s incompletion from the Bulls 15-yard line with 7 seconds remaining.
Collaros’ injury was being evaluated.
“He may be fine after treatments,” coach Butch Jones said. “We’ll know more later in the week.”
The Bearcats self-destructed with a half-dozen dropped throws and 12 penalties for 115 yards.
Daniels was a dual-threat quarterback as a freshman, leading the Bulls in rushing. He had struggled this season in a transition to pocket passer, forcing throws while under pressure. Against Cincinnati, he went 13 of 16 for 286 yards without an interception.
Cincinnati’s inexperienced defense had only two interceptions all season and was looking for a breakout game against Daniels. Sophomore safety Drew Frey stepped in front of a receiver on Daniels’ first pass, but lost the ball as he hit the ground.
Given a reprieve, Daniels got his act together.
He directed a 13-play, 86-yard drive that ended the touchdown drought, going 3 yards on a draw for a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter. Daniels threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Evan Landis on his next play, then went to the sideline and waved a white towel.
“B.J. was focused and dialed in,” Holtz said. “We felt that if we could get people open in space, we had a chance. B.J. did a good job finding them.”
South Florida’s defense made a pivotal stop, stopping Collaros on a fourth-and-1 from the Bulls 30-yard line late in the third quarter. Daniels then connected with Hornes, who darted through the defense for his 70-yard reception and a 31-16 lead.
Collaros’ 15-yard touchdown pass to Armon Binns cut it to 38-30 with 5:35 left. Collaros was hit hard while scrambling on the previous play, causing the leg injury.
The Bearcats got the ball back at their 29-yard line with 3:25 remaining and drove to the 15, where Anderson threw one away while getting sacked on fourth down.