The one big question from last Saturday's game is clearly the performance of B.J. Daniels. I finally had time to rewatch the whole game, but I haven't had time to clip some of these plays and YouTube them. So I'm not calling this post a proper Film Study, but that's more or less what it is. Later on this week, I'll look at how the Gators finally got their act together on offense in the second half and what that could mean for the Bulls later in the season.
I thought the game plan by the USF coaches was sound. They came up with a variety of running packages with which they could move the ball and control the clock, and they worked very well. (The Bulls ended up running for 244 yards, and Daniels was the first quarterback since Tommie Frazier in the infamous 1996 Fiesta Bowl to run for over 100 yards against the Gators.) Meanwhile, the passing game plan was designed to keep drives going and maintain possession. It was filled with mostly simple throws -- slants, curls, crossing routes, outs, and screens -- that would minimize the chance of mistakes. With both halves of the plan put together, it was a strategy that looked like it was designed to score around 30 points. Combined with the huge time of possession advantage that successfully executing that plan would have resulted in, it would have made a USF upset very possible, and maybe even likely with how the Gators struggled to move the ball early on.
But for whatever reason, Daniels couldn't execute some of those relatively easy throws. Even his 50-yard pass to Evan Landi was more fortunate than skillful -- it probably should have been intercepted. I have no idea what the problem was. Maybe he was too pumped up. Maybe he was overheating on a miserably hot day in the Swamp. Maybe he thought there was more pressure on him from the Gator defense than there really was, and he hurried his throws. And to be sure, the Gators' defensive backs made a few outstanding plays to break up passes when Daniels did hit his spots. (Janoris Jenkins played a fantastic game.)
Or maybe with Dontavia Bogan gimpy and not able to play the whole game, Daniels felt like he had to put the team on his shoulders and carry them by himself. When your most experienced receiver is also your backup quarterback, and you're forced to split Andreas Shields, a tight end, out wide as a receiver, you can understand that sentiment a little bit. I mean, the Gators were able to put a future NFL player (Jenkins) on a walk-on freshman receiver, Stephen Bravo-Brown, for much of the second half -- a spectacularly unfair matchup. And certainly Daniels had very little chemistry built up with the receivers he had to work with on Saturday. But the coaches weren't asking him to make tough downfield throws in the seams, or hit complex timing routes. Plus, even if you're stuck with me, Ken, and Toro as your receivers, that's no reason to try and make a play like the one where he scrambled around and then threw a weak pass right to Justin Trattou on his way to the ground, which was returned for basically a game-ending touchdown.
When I compared Daniels to an electric football player after the game, this is what I meant. He buzzed all over the field and gained yards effectively as a runner. But when it came time to flip his arm back and put the ball in it to try and throw a pass, there was no telling where the ball was going to go, or who would catch it.
Originally I thought this might be the worst passing game any USF quarterback had ever had, but the film was more forgiving. Daniels didn't make plays in the passing game, but really, neither did anyone else. This was a game where the lack of receiver depth was painfully obvious. And as Skip Holtz correctly pointed out in his postgame press conference, Daniels is really a true freshman in Todd Fitch's offense, playing in his first road game. We've seen Daniels have several big passing games already in his career, so for me it's way too early to start questioning if Daniels is capable of being a more traditional quarterback.