TAMPA -- Jacory Harris drove Miami into scoring position, then watched Jake Wieclaw calmly kick a field goal to beat South Florida and make the Hurricanes bowl eligible.
“I wasn’t nervous at all. I was just ready to rush the field,” Harris said after connecting on 7 of 7 passes for 40 yards to set up Wieclaw’s 36-yarder as time expired in a 6-3 victory. “I have confidence in Jake. He’s been doing it a long time.”
Wieclaw finished a 15-play, 61-yard drive that exhausted the final 5:43 of the clock. The Hurricanes (6-5) converted three third downs on the march, with Harris keeping their hopes alive with a 10-yard throw to Chase Ford third-and-6 and Lamar Miller doing some nifty running on a 12-yard reception to pick up another first down.
Wieclaw sent the game-winner through the uprights after USF (5-5) used a pair of timeouts to try to rattle the kicker, who earlier had missed on a 41-yard attempt that was tipped. The junior returned to the sideline during both timeouts and was surrounded by teammates, who jumped up and down chanting encouragement.
“They were saying: `You got this. You got this,”’ Wieclaw said, adding that he expected USF to call one timeout, but not two.
“I didn’t know that was allowed,” the kicker said. “I wasn’t nervous. We kind of go over pressure situations every week in practice. On Thursday, we have our pressure situations. It’s nothing new.”
Harris completed 27 of 35 passes for 259 yards, but was sacked six times. USF played most of the second half without quarterback B.J. Daniels, who left in the third quarter with a shoulder injury.
Miami is bowl eligible with one game remaining against Boston College, however it remains unclear if the Hurricanes will actually accept a berth because of a booster scandal that ultimately could lead to NCAA sanctions.
In recent weeks, references by both coach Al Golden and players to having a certain number of games left to play -- almost always talking about the regular-season total -- prompted speculation that Miami may forgo any possible postseason invitations.
Questions on the subject persisted earlier this month after athletic director Shawn Eichorst, in his first extended comments to reporters since the scandal involving a former booster broke in August, would not say if the Hurricanes would accept a bowl bid should they qualify.
Knowing that it will almost certainly face NCAA sanctions over allegations made by convicted Ponzi scheme architect Nevin Shapiro, the school could self-impose a bowl ban at any time in an effort to potentially minimize at least some of the penalties that could be handed down when the investigation ends.
Shapiro claims he tainted 72 Miami players and recruits, including at least a dozen members of the current team, with cash, cars, nightclub and strip-club access and other so-called “extra benefits” from 2002 through 2010.
Golden said getting a sixth win and becoming bowl eligible is a tribute to the way the team has stayed together through adversity and a tough schedule.
“It would be great. It would speak to our unity and how much we’ve grown and developed,” the coach said of a potential bid.
“I’m as disappointed as anybody that we have five losses. But it was 15 plays, to be honest with you. It was 15 plays. We showed them the 15 plays on Thursday. That’s the difference between being 5-5 and 10-0,” Golden added. “It’s one play in each phase in five games. ... We started four seniors on offense and three on defense for like the fifth week in a row. We’re growing a lot of guys right now. We can load up with a great recruiting class and move forward. This was a big game for us.”
Daniels accounted for 371 yards total offense to help USF stop a four-game losing streak the previous week against Syracuse. The slide toppled the Bulls’ first goal of winning the Big East, however they can still qualify for a bowl berth for a seventh consecutive season by winning one of two remaining games against Louisville and West Virginia.
“A classic, hard-fought, hard-nosed, competitive football game by both teams. I give Miami an awful lot of credit for making the plays they had to make going down the stretch and for winning the football game,” USF coach Skip Holtz said. “But I couldn’t be more proud of our football team with the way that they competed out there. It was a 12-round, toe-to-toe, stand in the center of the ring with two great defenses battling each other.”
The teams exchanged turnovers within the first three plays of the game, and it was 3-3 at the half after Miami settled for Wieclaw’s 26-yard field goal at the end of a 16-play, 77-yard drive in the opening quarter and USF got on the board with a 10-play, 49-yard march that set up Maikon Bonani’s 42-yard field goal late in the second quarter.
The Hurricanes wasted a potential opportunity to take the lead after Harris used completions of 22 yards to Travis Benjamin and 11 yards to Eduardo Clements to help them move from their own 17 to the USF 31 in the closing seconds of the half. But a delay of game penalty coming out of a timeout, followed by a sack that knocked them out of field goal range and forced a punt.
They squandered another chance when they drove to the USF 15 late in the third quarter, only to come away empty when Ryne Giddins got a hand on Wieclaw’s 41-yard field try that was on line but fell short in the end zone.
Daniels was injured with a little over five minutes into the second half, landing on his right shoulder after scrambling for no gain and being tackled by Miami’s Brandon McGee. The junior removed his jersey and shoulder pads, but remained on the sideline with a bag of ice on the injury.
Daniels finished 11 of 18 passing for 97 yards and an interception on USF’s first play from scrimmage. He rushed for 30 yards on nine attempts.
Bobby Eveld replaced Daniels, but the Bulls didn’t come anywhere close to scoring with their backup quarterback on the field.
“It was a frustrating night. There were some plays to be made and we didn’t make them,” USF offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said. “We didn’t do a good enough job preparing our guys, I guess, and getting in the right spots. We’ve got to do a better job. It’s a frustrating loss.”