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Quarterback B.J. Daniels brings hope back to USF Bulls' season

TAMPA — All of the promise is back. All of the potential, too.

A kid winds up and throws a ball into the night, and it spins through the stadium lights and lands in a receiver's hands half a football field away. Once again, he was dangerous. Once again, he was dynamic.

Just like that, B.J. Daniels looked like a budding star again.

Just like that, USF looked like a football team again.

What more can a team ask of a young quarterback than this? On a perfect Friday night, against a pretty good opponent, Daniels re-established himself, and by so doing, he re-established his team. His arm was as good as ever, and his feet were as quick as ever, and his decisionmaking was better than ever.

Turns out Daniels' timing was pretty good, too.

You cannot overestimate what Daniels gave to a Bulls' team that seemed to be in the middle of its annual tumble down the staircase. Had USF lost this game, the criticism was bound to grow sharper, and the questions about the coaching were going to grow harsher, and the noise from unhappy fans was going to get louder. You could feel the storm winds blowing.

That's what happens when a team spends the second half of three straight seasons in a plummet through the Big East standings. Start 5-0 one year and fall off the mountain, and it's a curiosity. Do it again, and it's a disturbing trend. Do it three times, and it's a cry for help. USF was starting to look like those wacky teenagers who keep going to the lake in every Halloween movie, and you know how those game films ended.

Daniels silenced all that. A week after the Bulls went into a game with the idea of playing around him, Daniels was the best player on the field. He threw for three touchdowns. He ran for 104 yards. He deflected criticism. He dismissed doubts. And because of it, USF ended up with a keeper of a victory against 20th-ranked West Virginia.

"Tonight, we saw what B.J. Daniels can do," offensive coordinator Mike Canales said.

Here's how good Daniels was: Once again, you wondered just what in the world the USF coaching staff was thinking when it all but left him out of the game plan last week against Pitt.

"It's my fault," coach Jim Leavitt said. "I handcuffed him in the Pittsburgh game. I didn't let him go out there and play. He had some interceptions, and I was so tired of interceptions. I wanted to protect him a little bit. That's nobody's fault but mine.

"I told Mike, 'In this game, let him go. Let him do what he does. We'll just hope he makes good decisions.' "

Oh, Daniels wasn't perfect. Leavitt said he still hadn't figured out how some of the passes the quarterback threw into the end zone weren't intercepted.

Still, there is an undeniable electricity to Daniels. Handcuff him and you're doing the other team a favor.

Canales told Daniels early that in this game things would be different. "I'm not dumb. I knew the doubts were out there," Canales said. "I told (Daniels) early this was on us. We had to prove ourselves."

Against the Mountaineers, the proving started early. On the Bulls' third play, Daniels ran a quarterback draw and skittered 10 yards for a first down. On the sixth play, he threw a perfect pass down the left side for a 49-yard touchdown pass to Carlton Mitchell.

Still, you have seen Daniels run before, and you have seen him throw, and you know he's capable of doing both. This time he seemed to make better decisions, too. He was patient, he was poised, and he was precise.

For instance, the most impressive play on the Bulls' second drive wasn't the 69-yard pass he threw to Mitchell. It was an 11-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Love, when Daniels rolled to his right, cocked, then rolled some more, then flicked a perfect pass at the last second.

A few minutes later, Daniels did it again. This time he rolled to his left, and again there were two times it looked as if Daniels might force a pass. He didn't. He kept rolling, and then he threw a 45-yard pass down the sideline to Love.

Two weeks ago who knows what decision Daniels would have made? That's part of a quarterback's growth. For a quarterback who can pass and run, knowing which to do when is the most important decision of all.

This is exactly what USF needed, a big game from a player who wouldn't let the season slip away.

"He's a lot like Matt (Grothe, USF's injured starter)," Leavitt said. "He wants to make plays. There was once when I told him to throw out of bounds when he lost 3 yards, and he was so mad. 'No, I don't want to do those kinds of things.' Well, you're going to learn to do those sorts of things. And he will."

Leavitt laughed.

"(Daniels) thinks he can conquer the world," he said. "And sometimes he can."

Quarterback B.J. Daniels brings hope back to USF Bulls' season 10/30/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 31, 2009 12:55am]

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