The Associated Press
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — B.J. Daniels threw two touchdowns passes and ran for a third and South Florida finished coach Skip Holtz’s first season with a 31-26 victory against Clemson on Friday in the Meineke Bowl.
Mo Plancher also ran for a score for the Bulls (8-5), who took control after Tigers quarterback Kyle Parker left at halftime with broken ribs. South Florida secured its fifth straight eight-win season and earned its first bowl win over a team from a BCS automatic-qualifying league.
Parker’s final football game before embarking on a baseball career ended abruptly when broke ribs when tackled near the goal line at the end of the second quarter.
Backup Tajh Boyd was picked off by JaQuez Jenkins on the first play of the fourth. His 48-yard return set up Daniels’ 8-yard TD run to make it 31-13 and gave the Tigers (6-7) their first losing season in 11 years.
It was a triumphant return to North Carolina for Holtz, who left East Carolina in January to take over South Florida after coach Jim Leavitt’s surprise firing left a divided locker room.
After a slow start, the Bulls finished with wins in five of their last seven games and gave the beleaguered Big East a 3-1 bowl record.
Holtz had insisted all week he’d split the snaps at quarterback between Daniels, who had missed the regular-season finale against Connecticut with a thigh injury, and freshman walk-on Bobby Eveld.
But a steady Daniels didn’t need to share the offense, completing 20 of 27 passes for 189 yards and an interception. He locked up the MVP award when he zigzagged for the decisive score when he faked a pitch on the option.
It was a miserable end to a tough season for the Tigers, who were 2-0 before an overtime loss to No. 1 Auburn set off an avalanche of bad news and losses.
It wasn’t what Parker had in mind when the first-round pick forfeited $800,000 from the Colorado Rockies to put off baseball for a year. After getting benched in the regular-season finale against South Carolina, he contemplated skipping the bowl game.
Turned out, he was done at halftime after completed 11 of 17 passes for 134 yards and an interception. He finished the year with 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
South Florida stormed to a 17-3 second-quarter lead behind Daniels’ TD passes to Demetris Murray and Dontavia Bogan. The Bulls added a field goal following Quenton Washington’s 45-yard interception return on Parker’s poorly thrown pass toward the sideline.
After a rough beginning, Parker led two scoring drives to end the first half, the second included him escaping a sack and finding Marquan Jones for 38 yards to the South Florida 2. He was apparently hurt on a 1-yard run before Jamie Harper punched it in from yard out to make it 17-13 at halftime.
Plancher’s 2-yard TD run early in the third quarter gave South Florida a comfortable cushion again and the elusive Daniels was able to keep Clemson’s stout defense at bay.
Da’Quan Bowers, who came in with a nation-best 15 1/2 sacks, never got to Daniels and failed to set the school’s single-season sacks record.
Clemson, listless for most of the game, made a last-gasp effort. Boyd, who was 13-of-23 for 112 yards, threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Ford with 1:47 left.
The Tigers recovered the onside kick, quickly moved down the field and Boyd found Ford again for a 10-yard TD. But Clemson’s second onside kick was touched by the Tigers about a half yard short of the 10 it needed to travel and USF took over.
The Tigers’ difficult season ended with a much smaller group of their disgruntled fans making the 2 1/2 drive to Charlotte to see them. Meineke Bowl officials chose Clemson over Maryland thinking it would produce a bigger crowd, but fewer than 40,000 fans came through the turnstiles in the lowest-attended game in the bowl’s nine-year history.
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