PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 29: B.J. Daniels #7 of the South Florida Bulls runs for a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game on September 29, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
No one's been paying much attention with all the off-the-field murkiness, but B.J. Daniels is quietly putting together a very good season. And yes, we know the Bulls have played three of their five games against weak competition But last year Daniels struggled mightily against almost everyone on the schedule, even the gimme opponents like Western Kentucky and Florida Atlantic. So it's fair to give him some amount of credit for dominating the teams he should be dominating, because that didn't happen last year at all. There's still an entire conference schedule to get through, but so far Daniels is on pace to have the breakout season that we've been waiting for the last couple of years.
Let's start with the passing stats through five games in 2010, and through five games in 2011:
Night and day, isn't it? Todd Fitch has been more willing to open up the passing game, and Daniels has easily handled the extra work this season. The Bulls have never had a 3000-yard passer in a season (the school record is Matt Grothe's 2911 yards in 2008), but Daniels is well on his way to reaching that milestone. He's also on a pace to set the school record for combined passing and rushing yardage, although the pace will probably slow down as the season wears on.
It's not just the stats, though. So far, B.J. has been a much better decision-maker than we've ever seen him be.
Daniels' stat lines in the two road games the Bulls have played aren't overwhelming -- a combined 36-for-66 for 351 yards and only one touchdown. But just as important are the zero turnovers. In fact, his only turnover of 2011 was arguably not even his fault. He and Sterling Griffin got their wires crossed on what should have been a vertical route, Griffin stopped running, and Ball State made a diving interception. There have been very few cringe-worthy throws by Daniels this season. Even when he misses a receiver, he misses them in a place where the ball is not being put in danger.
The running game is also being managed extremely well. (I'll try to get some video together on this before the game on Saturday.) USF is doing a lot more read option and veer-option running this season, which adds to the quarterback's decision-making. Daniels is consistently making the right decision at the mesh point, whether it's handing off to Darrell Scott or Demetris Murray, or keeping it himself. He's also pitching the ball on time on veer plays to allow the backs to hit the running lanes at top speed. (The faster pace of the offense this season has helped the running game, too. The defense wears down faster, and then they have to add the mental stress of figuring out who has the ball and where they're going.)
How long can Daniels keep this pace up? There aren't as many defensive tests on the schedule as it first appeared, with UConn not what it was last season, and even Miami and Louisville not as sharp defensively as before. The two biggest challenges may end up being the last two road games of the season, against Rutgers (who has been off the charts against Syracuse and Pittsburgh) and the Orange on a short week in a dome, after they blitzed Daniels into the ground last October. But even if Daniels just duplicates his Pittsburgh performance in those games, it's still a big step forward from where he was this time last year.