South Florida's Daniels presents challenge to Pitt


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South Florida is ranked near the bottom of the Big East Conference in yards per game and is in the middle of the pack in scoring but that doesn't mean the Bulls' offense isn't extremely dangerous.

And that is because the Bulls' sophomore quarterback, B.J. Daniels, has big-play capability which gives them the ability to score from nearly anywhere.

Daniels, 6 feet 1, 212 pounds, is one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the country and makes a lot of plays, turning broken plays into big gains.

That's why Pitt has worked a lot this week on maintaining its discipline on defense both up front, where the Panthers will try to keep Daniels in the pocket, and in the secondary, where the Panthers must be careful not to abandon coverage too early when Daniels is scrambling.

"Every time he has the ball in his hands, there has to be a sense of urgency," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said Tuesday of Daniels.

"Usually, those guys [scrambling quarterbacks] are kind of one dimensional, [but Daniels is not] and everybody needs to be responsibility conscious. What I mean by that is, if he is on the move, he is not a quarterback that you can come out of coverage and have nine guys chasing him down.

"He can throw on the run and he can make all the throws as good as any quarterback we've faced so he's a dual threat, he is as dangerous throwing as he is running, so it forces you to play aggressive but disciplined defense."

Daniels burst on to the scene last year in his first career start when the Bulls upset Florida State, 17-7, in Tallahassee.

In that game, Daniels threw for 215 yards, rushed for another 126 while averaging 5.5 yards per carry, and threw two touchdown passes.

One of those passes covered 73 yards and the other (an 8-yarder) was set up by his 77-yard pass that gave the Bulls a first-and-goal.

While all that showcased his skills, it never has translated into the kind of consistency that leads to being a dominant player.

Daniels was named to the All-Big East freshman team by ESPN.com last season after passing for 1,983 yards, 14 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. He led the Bulls with 772 yards rushing and scored nine rushing touchdowns.

He accounted for 21 passes and eight runs of 25 yards or more.

Wannstedt said it is clear that Daniels has developed as a passer and grown more comfortable at quarterback with his role in the Bulls' offense.

"He is definitely the leader," Wannstedt said. "Before you even talk about his athletic skills, he's demonstrated over the latter part of the season that he is the leader they've been looking for from the quarterback position.

"Athletically, I think we all know his history of being a great high school football and basketball player.

"Combine that [his leadership ability and his passing skills] with his athletic ability to get away from the pressure and run the option game, and he puts a lot of pressure on your defense."

In the past, the Panthers have been able to deal with athletic quarterbacks and spread offenses by replacing a linebacker or lineman -- or a combination of the two with defensive backs so they have more speed on the field.

But this year, with Dom DeCicco playing the dual role of safety and linebacker, the Panthers might be able to get away with DeCicco at weakside linebacker and Jason Hendricks at safety and using their base 4-3 defense.

Pitt senior receiver Greg Cross, a former quarterback, is running the scout team this week, and Wannstedt said he always gives the Panthers' defense a good look leading up to games against players like Daniels.

Daniels, however, runs less now, creating more time in the pocket and throwing the ball down field.

He has completed 104 of 177 passes for 1,325 yards, 9 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and is fifth in the Big East in passing efficiency (126.0). He has rushed 92 times for 240 yards (2.6-yard average) and four touchdowns and been involved in 13 of the Bulls' 18 offensive plays of 25 yards or more.

Wannstedt said that Daniels' ability to throw accurately on the run is what separates him from a lot of other scrambling quarterbacks.

"The guys [Daniels] is throwing to are good enough athletes -- combination of speed and ability to make catches [that Pitt's safeties need to guard against getting beat deep]," Wannstedt said.

"The long touchdown pass against Louisville last week [Daniels hit Dontavia Bogan with a 48-yard touchdown pass in the Bulls' 24-21 win against the Cardinals], he threw the ball in the back of the end zone, about 60 yards in the air, so it is not just a guy who is dropping back and throwing it deep.

"He is very accurate."

Next

• Game: Pitt (5-4, 3-1 Big East) at South Florida (6-3, 3-2), Tampa, Fla.

• When: Noon, Saturday.

• TV: ESPN2.

• Left: South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels has accounted for seven touchdowns in the Bulls' past three games.


Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720.


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