Vaas on USF offense: 'We are who we are'
USF coaches have talked about how the strong winds at Rentschler Field had them tentative to throw the ball and how quarterback B.J. Daniels had grip issues during the game, but a breakdown of Saturday's 16-10 loss at Connecticut shows that the Bulls threw for just 50 yards on non-screen passes against a defense that had given up 450-plus passing yards in its previous two games.
Asked about the lack of downfield passing -- USF was able to run for 175 yards, more than double what UConn was allowing coming in -- this is what quarterbacks coach Peter Vaas said, referencing Daniels' difficulty gripping the ball in the first half.
"We were running the ball pretty darned well. Why go ahead and disturb something that's going well for you when there are some question marks on the other end?" Vaas said. "For people that can be set in their ways, for lack of a better term, as soon as you get a little pebble in your shoe, you need to get rid of the pebble. Once you get rid of the pebble at halftime, we came out and, what were we, 6-for-6 (5-for-5) throwing the ball? We had to settle down with the elements."
After Daniels marched the Bulls down the field for a 10-6 lead, the passing game stopped clicking again. After the touchdown drive, he missed on his next six non-screen pass attempts, the last the tipped pass that was intercepted in UConn territory in the fourth quarter.
"It's a combination of things. It isn't any one specific thing," Vaas said. "It's some little pressure the defense may have put on you. It may be somebody not being real crisp in a route. It may be something where we overthrow something or overstride something. The thing is, if it were one specific thing, we'd correct it in a heartbeat."
Asked about USF's concerted effort to continue to run the ball between the tackles -- at the strength of UConn's defense -- rather than pass the way Western Michigan and West Virginia did to great success against the same defense, Vaas said it's "unfair" to compare USF's offensive philosophies with other teams.
"I think it's extremely unfair to compare what one philosophical group of people do with a different philosophical group of people," Vaas said. "That's what we all get caught up in: 'Oh, look at that.' But that's not who we are. We are who we are and we need to function what we are in our world. We are a run-the-football, play-action type of passing team and football team. We are not going to become a spread-'em-out and drop back and throw it 50 times a game. That is what West Virginia and that is what Western Michigan (are)."
Asked if it's tempting to consider changing to an offensive scheme that has had success against a particular defense for a particular game, Vaas said: "I think the human nature is that you always want to say the grass is greener. 'Oh, I wish I could have that.' In reality, you go step into that yard. 'Oh, my God, look at all the brown spots here.' My point to you is there's always that temptation. At the same point in time, you can't succumb to that temptation. We always have to know what we are, and you also have to recognize what we're not. We're not one of those folks."
And about USF's continued struggles throwing the ball on third down -- Daniels went 2-for-8 for 32 yards, with two conversions on passes to Sterling Griffin -- Vaas said his players shouldn't feel any additional pressure in third-down situations.
"It's a combination of being more accurate and being calmer. The game is a pressure game," Vaas said. "That's part of what we do. We play under pressure. You'd like to think we could thrive under pressure. Our numbers are not as good as we'd like it to be, and we've got to keep working at it. There is no simple answer for it right now."
On Daniels' play as a whole, Vaas reiterated that the quarterback is reading defenses and making decisions much better than a year ago, and now the goal is to get better execution on all sides of the offense.
"B.J. has created a high standard for himself, not because it was some fictitious thing we created. He's performed at that (level)," Vaas said. "Is he capable of performing there? Yes. Will he do it all the time? The reality of life says no. At the same point and time, he's still doing a fine job. Last night, there were three or four plays, where if we could eliminate those, you'd be singing his praises right now."
Daniels finished 15-for-27 for 164 yards, but if you split those numbers into quick screen passes or downfield routes, USF went 11-for-14 for 114 yards on screen passes, but just 4-for-13 for 50 yards on anything else.
Two of those non-screen completions came on essentially the same play, on Daniels' first and last passes of the day, a "man-beater" drag route across the middle by receiver Sterling Griffin. The play went for 15 yards on a third-and-1 on USF's first drive (actually the only pass attempt of the first quarter), but on fourth-and-7 in the closing minutes, Daniels threw a pass low and ahead of Griffin, forcing him to go down and gain only 3 yards to end a potential go-ahead drive. The only other two completions on non-screens were a 10-yard sideline completion to Stephen Bravo-Brown, which was upheld after review, and a downfield completion to Griffin for 22 yards on USF's touchdown drive to open the second half.