Yesterday we took a look at the problems USF had on offense against Syracuse. Today we'll study the West Virginia game, which had its own set of issues.
Against the Mountaineers, the Bulls were fairly successful running the ball and using sideways passes to help keep themselves ahead of the chains. But USF's longest play of the entire game was 15 yards, on a pass to Dontavia Bogan that I'm still not convinced should have counted. (It was the one where he was pushed out of bounds and never got a foot back in before catching the ball. Even the first step he took after catching it -- and it was a really good throw to be fair -- looked like he was out of bounds.) There were some strange play calls along the way, but overall the game plan made sense given B.J. Daniels's problems: stay in the shotgun and keep it short. That makes West Virginia spread their defensive formation out instead of just loading the box to stop the running game. And in theory at least, going back to sets and formations that USF ran last year should make Daniels more comfortable out there.
The short stuff worked well, for the most part. There were still some blocking hiccups and the line is still having trouble deciding who should pick up blitzers, but it was better than last week. Still, any time Daniels had to throw the ball past the first-down marker, he made a bad decision more often than not. He also looked very tentative on designed runs and draws.
I don't know exactly what it is, but Daniels looks slower and less athletic than he did last year. Whether he's injured, or he's in a mental state where he's not sure whether to use his instincts or just run the offense, or there's something going on that we don't know about... I can't tell what the problem is. Obviously Daniels is not as good a quarterback as he was last year, but one thing I never thought I'd have to be concerned about is how he doesn't look like as good of an athlete as he was last year.
Let's cut to the chase in this study and just look at Daniels' three interceptions against West Virginia, because they sum up all of the problems that he's having in this offense. Like I did yesterday, my comments follow the video clips.
Whether Todd Fitch left the booth or not before this play is a red herring, although I question who would have started calling plays if this one worked and they decided to try and get points. Both Evan Landi and Bogan were being set up by their defenders, but a better throw closer to the sideline and I don't think Robert Sands can get to the ball. (Brandon Hogan was covering Bogan and he wouldn't have been close enough to get there either.) At the very least it's an incompletion, or it could have been about a 20-yard gain and out of bounds. I think this was more bad execution than a bad idea. Just an inaccurate throw, which is strange because if you're rolling right and you're right-handed, your sideways momentum would help direct the ball towards the sideline.
Toro and I disagree on whether this play should have been called in the first place. I don't mind aggressiveness on offense, but I can see his point because you're trailing 10-3, you're going to get the ball out of halftime, there's less than a minute on the clock, and West Virginia only has one timeout. It would have been easy to run the clock out, and no one would have said a word. Instead they try and get points, it backfires badly, and a few minutes later Dr. Lou is having a "my wife's son" moment on national TV because the Bulls gave away points at the end of the half like they did in Gainesville.
The other two picks after the jump, and I'll also talk about what happens now.
The second interception. Look, I know the ball went off Landi's hands and that's why it was picked, but he wasn't really open. The ball should have been knocked away or tipped or picked off by Sands before it even got there - he just mistimed his jump. And as Jesse Palmer pointed out on the broadcast, he had Plancher open in the flat for at least a few yards.
And here's the third one, which ended his night.
I mean, what is this. He's making terrible decisions with the ball. Stephen Bravo-Brown is open at the far sideline and he has a chance to get a first down, but that doesn't even matter because you're going to go for it on 4th down at this point anyway. Get him the ball and figure out the next play. Instead he throws an awful pass for Bogan and Brantwon Bowser has an easy interception.
I don't really know what the coaches can do at this point. Daniels looks completely confused out there in any situation where he has to read a defense. In a lot of other situations, there would be serious discussion about benching him. But what do you do, put Bobby Eveld out there as a walk-on true freshman? Burn Jamius Gunsby's redshirt? Just start running the ball 50 times a game? (I'm not factoring in things like moving Terrence Mitchell to receiver, because I think that's just shuffling furniture.) Daniels may need a lot of work to regain his confidence and his ability from last year, but he's going to have to keep playing because there aren't any good options. Not to mention that making a change is basically admitting that the season is over. I'm sure the coaches will do the best they can to get him ready to play, but I think we might have to just sit here and take this for the last six games.