Daniels ran for 117 yards and a touchdown, skipped away from Syracuse's defensive pressure at every turn, and the Bulls celebrated a Big East victory, beating Syracuse 37-17 on Friday night.
After four straight conference losses, South Florida (5-4, 1-4 Big East) finally had snapped the program's longest losing streak.
"Coming out with a win, the tradition for us is to go into the locker room and sing the fight song -- we haven't done that in a while," Daniels said. "It was real exciting to get the opportunity to do that."
The Bulls had dropped their previous three by a total of 12 points, including 20-17 in overtime at Rutgers a week ago. Thanks to Daniels, they scored early on this night and watched Syracuse self-destruct with a slew of early major penalties.
"Everybody kept asking, what is there to play for now, you're 0-4 in the league?" head coach Skip Holtz said. "I said, 'These guys are going to go in the locker room and they're going to play for each other.' It's been six weeks (with two open dates) since we've had a win."
It hasn't been that long for Syracuse (5-5, 1-4), but the Orange are getting closer. They've lost three straight since a huge 49-23 win over then-No. 11 West Virginia three weeks ago and have two games left to get that elusive sixth victory to qualify for the postseason.
"It makes us last in the Big East. Obviously, that's not our goal," Orange center Macky MacPherson said. "Just making a bowl game wasn't something we were trying for -- we wanted to take it a step higher. We're a talented enough club to do that and we're a good enough team."
Not on this night. Not against the fleet-footed Daniels, who was 23 of 34 for 254 yards passing and was not sacked, easily dashing away from trouble against Syracuse's swarming defense. He finished with 371 yards of offense and had outgained the Orange until the final 3 minutes.
"He was extending plays, throwing strikes," said Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones, who was called for two early personal fouls. "He did a good job of being himself."
Syracuse's Ryan Nassib completed 23 of 46 passes for 297 yards, but the offense never clicked consistently. The Orange crossed midfield only once on its first four possessions, going scoreless in the opening quarter for the fifth time this season. They also were hampered by four major penalties in the early going.
The Bulls built a 10-0 lead on Maikon Bonani's 29-yard field goal and Marcus Shaw's 3-yard touchdown run, then watched Syracuse self-destruct in the penalty-filled game. The Orange were called for seven penalties totaling 86 yards and the Bulls had 10 for 84.
When Demetris Murray scored on a 2-yard run to make it 30-10 late in the fourth, the Orange had gained only 280 yards of offense. Small wonder most of the 41,582 who showed up on a blustery night had packed up and left the Carrier Dome before the end of the game.
Syracuse's Ryan Nassib completed 23 of 46 passes for 297 yards. Alec Lemon had 10 catches for a career-high 179 yards and scored twice, including a 58-yard reception with 3:41 left.
It was the pass that Lemon didn't catch that will haunt him for a while. He dropped a critical pass deep in Bulls territory on fourth down early in the fourth quarter with the Orange trailing 23-10 and Daniels guided the Bulls back down the field for a 14-point swing that essentially sealed the victory.
"I should have pulled that one in. It's frustrating for myself," Lemon said. "I didn't come down with the touchdown. I feel like I kind of let my team down. It's going to haunt me tonight and all through the bye week."
Nassib, who gained 30 yards rushing on 10 carries, finally got the Orange untracked late in the second quarter, driving them 52 yards in just five plays. He scrambled left and hit tight end Nick Provo for 24 yards and, after getting sacked by Ryne Giddins, hit Lemon for 22 yards on a third-and-14 play. Lemon caught a 10-yard scoring pass on the next play to draw Syracuse within three with 3:52 left.
The Orange hurt themselves on the ensuing kickoff when Shane Raupers' kick squirted out of bounds, and Jeremiah Kobena was called for a personal foul.
That put the ball at the Syracuse 45, with plenty of time remaining for fast-scoring South Florida. In the previous six games, the Bulls had 14 scoring drives of less than two minutes -- and six took less than one minute and three plays or less.
Add one more.
Andre Davis made a diving 43-yard reception between two defenders on first down and Daniels scored from the 2 to cap a drive that took 25 seconds.
Ross Krautman kicked a 28-yard field goal with 1:21 to go, but the Bulls quickly marched down the field again. Daniels drove South Florida to the Syracuse 29 with 9 seconds left. Jeremi Wilkes prevented a touchdown with a vicious hit at the back of the end zone that jarred the ball away from Victor Marc, but Bonani converted a 46-yard field goal as time expired for a 20-10 lead.
After Bonani kicked a 35-yard field goal to give USF a 23-10 lead midway through the third, the Orange got a lucky break. Daniels hit a wide-open Marc along the left side, but he fumbled as he dove for the goal line and the ball sailed through the end zone for a touchback.