MORGANTOWN, W.Va. —USF's offense has struggled in nearly every situation the past two games, but none more so than on third down against No. 25 West Virginia in Thursday's 20-6 loss.
The Bulls converted 1 of 11, the lone conversion coming on a 2-yard pass from B.J. Daniels to WR Evan Landi on third and 2. On those 11 plays, the Bulls totaled minus-6 yards, unable to convert even third and shorts against a quick West Virginia defense.
"We're 9 percent on third downs. That's pretty bad," coach Skip Holtz said after the game. "If you turn the ball over and you're not good on third down, you'd better find a way to get the ball down the field and put points on the board."
Daniels completed passes throughout, going 20-for-30. But rarely were those enough to move the chains — only six completions netted first downs. On six third-down passes, he completed three but for only 6 yards and one conversion. USF's best third-down play was a 6-yard pass to Mo Plancher, but it needed 10.
"(Daniels) was probably pretty good in the completion percentage," Holtz said. "But 1-of-11 on third downs really kind of makes that irrelevant."
ABSENT: Perhaps the most surprising part of Daniels' interception in the final minute of the first half was offensive coordinator Todd Fitch didn't see it, having already left the press box for the locker room.
On third and 4, Bulls DT Terrell McClain sacked Geno Smith, and USF called a timeout with 1:02 left. After a punt, the Bulls took over at their 14 with 52 seconds left.
Rather than run out the clock and go into halftime down 10-3 (then get the ball to start the second half), Daniels threw a pass to Landi that was intercepted by S Robert Sands and returned 28 yards to the USF 7. West Virginia scored on the next play for a 17-3 halftime lead.
"It was a minute to go. Defense had the ball," Fitch said. "It's a long walk here (to the locker room). To get down, you have to hike here. We usually would come down in that situation because we have halftime."
Against Florida on Sept. 11, Daniels threw an interception with 1:00 left. Florida took over at the USF 29 and got the tying touchdown three plays later.
On Thursday, Holtz said he told Daniels to throw a sideline pass and if it wasn't there, throw the ball away.
"I should have learned something at Florida," Holtz said, accepting "some of the blame" for the interception.
Daniels said he was told to guard against a turnover but also wanted to score before halftime.
"He said to be careful, of course," Daniels said. "But he's also trying to get the ball down the field and score, to put points on the board."
Greg Auman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.