GAINESVILLE — His legs said yes.
His arm said no.
Rarely has a quarterback's body language disagreed so loudly with itself. USF quarterback B.J. Daniels was equal parts awesome and awful in Saturday's 38-14 loss to Florida. He was fabulous, and he was frustrating. For a while, he gave his team every chance to win, and later, no chance at all.
How do you begin to grade a performance such as this one? When he was running the ball, when he was an athlete, Daniels was a highlight film. But when he was passing, when he was a quarterback, Daniels had almost as many of his passes caught by the opposition as his own receivers. Depending on your point of view, it was either the greatest bad game in USF history, or it was the worst great one.
And so, like a program itself, it has become more clear which way an athlete must grow. Like the Bulls themselves, Daniels must become more efficient, more patient, more intelligent on a football field. The confidence is admirable, and the competitiveness is praiseworthy. The control, however, needs some work.
This is one of the lessons that came out of the Bulls' loss to Florida. For all of the good plays that USF made, the bad ones will dominate the memories of this game. It wasn't just that an opportunity slipped through their hands. It was that they threw it up for grabs.
Let's agree on this first. The Bulls had no shot in this game if not for Daniels. He ran 17 times for 107 yards, Six times, he had gains of 10 yards or more. Nine times, he ran for a first down.
When it was time to throw, however, Daniels struggled. He completed only 5 of 20 passes, and he had four intercepted. That left him with a 25 completion percentage and a 36.8 rating. (For comparison purposes, Daniels would have had a 21.7 rating using the NFL formula).
Put it this way: When a quarterback's coach refers to him as "an athlete," it isn't always a complement. It's also a suggestion there is improvement to be made.
"I would say athletically, he is a tremendous athlete," USF coach Skip Holtz said. "He's a great competitor. He more or less put this team on his shoulders on the opening drive and went down the field. He can run. He can make some things happen. He can do some things."
"Right now, we do not make very good decisions in the passing game. I can handle an incomplete pass. Right before the half, throw the ball into the ground, put it away. We have to remember this. B.J. is a sophomore on the football field, and he is a true freshman in this offense. In some split-second decisions, he didn't make some wise choices."
For instance, there was the third and 6 just before halftime, when UF had snuffed out a screen pass. Instead of throwing the ball away, Daniels forced a throw. It was intercepted and set up the Gators for their first touchdown.
"With his competitive nature, B.J. is probably saying, 'You know what? I can get it in there. I'm going to force it in there, and we're going to put a two-minute drive together and go down there and score,' " Holtz said. "I don't think it's that B.J. doesn't care. I don't think it's that he's not talented enough. I just think he doesn't have a lot of experience, and he's running a new offense."
Late in the third quarter, it happened again. Daniels was scrambling to escape a heavy rush and had his pass picked off by Florida defensive end Justin Trattou, who returned it 35 yards for a touchdown.
"The smart thing would have been to throw the ball away," Daniels said. "I was in the moment. We all make mistakes in the moment. There is definitely stuff I can work on."
Without the interceptions, Daniels said it "definitely" would have been close at the end.
Should this change your opinion of Daniels? No. He's still the most dangerous player in the Bulls' huddle. On every drive, he's still the Bulls' most important weapon. Does he need maturity? Sure he does.
That said, get a load of what Florida coach Urban Meyer said about him.
"Their quarterback is a superstar," Meyer said. "That guy is a tough nut, man. He's an SEC quarterback (in talent), no doubt about it. I think he's a great quarterback."
Eventually, that's the goal. Eventually, Daniels must corral his impulse to turn every play into a big gain. Eventually, he will be more precise. Eventually, he will become more efficient.
Do that, and no one will ever call him "an athlete" again.
Just a quarterback