TAMPA, Fla. - In its steamy season opener Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team didn't get off to a clean or quick start. But the Mocs hung around against South Florida.
The Mocs made plenty of mistakes (11 penalties), often had trouble getting first downs or stopping South Florida from doing so and at times didn't pose much of a challenge for the Bulls.
Still, it was a two-touchdown game against the BCS conference school entering the fourth quarter -- after a Henrique Ribeiro 46-yard field goal -- when the temperature was still 87 degrees and the humidity was 51 percent.
UTC didn't wilt in the final 15 minutes, but South Florida, picked to finish second in the Big East, was able to pull out a 34-13 win.
"They took away some things from us, but that being said I think we could have played better," Mocs coach Russ Huesman said.
Bulls quarterback B.J. Daniels threw three touchdown passes, ran for another and was the main playmaker for USF (1-0), which paid UTC $435,000 for the game. Daniels finished 16-of-27 for 265 yards passing, but his best plays were likely his scrambles. That's because UTC's front four spent a lot of time in the backfield chasing him.
"This is one matchup I think we won: our defensive line versus their offensive line," Huesman said. "Whether [USF coach Skip Holtz] agrees with me or not, we won that battle."
Defensive ends Davis Tull and Josh WIlliams had a combined eight tackles and Tull had a sack and forced a fumble. Linebacker Wes Dothard led UTC with nine tackles and a sack.
"We got after the ball tonight, but we've got to get better," Tull said.
The Mocs came in prepared to play two quarterbacks and did. Redshirt sophomore Terrell Robinson started for the Mocs and redshirt freshman Jacob Huesman played plenty.
Coach Huesman's son finished 9-of-13 passing for 82 yards and Robinson was 4-of-5 for 20. Lost-yardage running plays by the quarterbacks shut down several drives. Robinson ended with 9 net yards on seven rushes, and Huesman had 1 yard on 17 attempts.
"We had a couple of missed opportunities, but it's South Florida," Jacob Huesman said, adding that his first collegiate game was "a great learning experience."
UTC finished with 151 yards of offense, while the Bulls gained 369.
After the Bulls took a 7-0 lead with 7:41 left in the first quarter, Tull made UTC's first big play of the game, sacking Daniels. Defensive tackle Derrick Lott, the Georgia transfer, recovered the fumble at the Bulls' 25 and UTC was able to get a career-long 39-yard Nick Pollard field goal out of it, making it a 7-3 game with 3:39 left in the quarter.
That was all of the Mocs' good in the period, which finished with them at minus-1 yards of offense and no first downs.
Daniels kept the Bulls' offense going and it was a 21-3 USF lead with 7:27 to play until halftime.
UTC's offense didn't come to life until late in the first half, when Jacob Huesman was in at quarterback. With some effective runs and throws, UTC drove inside the 5 before a holding penalty and a sack killed the drive and Pollard missed a 40-yard field-goal attempt.
The Mocs didn't mope for long because safety D.J. Key picked off a Daniels pass on the second play of the ensuing possession and returned it 43 yards to the USF 4.
"We worked on that coverage, and I just went and got it," Key said.
Two plays later, Keon Williams ran the ball in from the 2 and the Mocs were trailed 21-10 at halftime. UTC had five first downs and 93 yards in the second quarter.
Jacob Huesman started the second half, but the Mocs' offense didn't have the same spark. He and Robinson continued to rotate at quarterback as UTC tried to get something going. Not much did.
The Mocs play this Saturday at Jacksonville State.