A 6-foot-1, 215-pound redshirt freshman from Tallahassee, Fla., B.J. Daniels started the past three games for injured veteran quarterback Matt Grothe and leads USF with 365 yards rushing (5.7 yards per carry) and four touchdowns, but he also has completed 53.4 percent of his passes for 810 yards and seven scores with four interceptions and eight sacks.
So, Pittsburgh (6-1, 3-0 in the Big East) will be tested on defense against the Bulls (5-1, 1-1) in a key Conference matchup Saturday at noon at Heinz Field. The contest is an ESPN regional telecast and the Big East game of the week.
"At the beginning of the season, when Grothe went down, I felt sorry for him,'' Pitt fifth-year defensive tackle Gus Mustakas said. "I went through that same (torn ACL knee) injury, so I wouldn't wish that on anybody. But I was eager to see who would replace him.
"And they came up with B.J. Daniels, probably the most athletic quarterback we'll see all year. He's extremely athletic, but a difference is that he'll scramble to find more time before he runs. So, it's going to be a real test to stop him.''
Pitt has faced several quarterbacks like Daniels already this season in games against Youngstown State, Buffalo and North Carolina State with the latter performance not turning out so well. Wolfpack quarterback Russell Wilson led three touchdown drives beginning late in the third quarter to hand the Panthers their only loss.
"The N.C. State quarterback, we knew he was a great athlete, but we didn't think he was going to scramble that much,'' Mustakas said. "So, we're definitely more prepared for the scramble this time, to keep Daniels in the pocket, and not let him scramble for time. We can't let him to that.
"It's tough for a DB to cover a receiver for 6-7 seconds, so it's on us to make sure he stays in the pocket and doesn't get loose. It's his first year as a starter, but he has a big heart. And he's a player. He went into FSU and won in his first start, so ... he's a good quarterback. And it's going to be a big test for us.''
The key for Pitt will be to contain Daniels, keep him in the pocket and not let him control the tempo. So, the Panthers' defensive line pressure will be crucial, while the secondary has to stay in their coverage and not take a peak into the backfield to try to make a big play.
"Sure, the line has to get a good rush on him, and we have to contain him,'' Pitt redshirt freshman safety Jarred Holley said. "But he'll scramble, so we have to stay in coverage and not let him beat us that way. ... It might be a good idea to blitz, but he's so elusive that we need to stay in coverage and try to contain him as much as possible. But it's going to be tough.
"We can't get caught looking into the backfield, and we need to read our keys and stay in our coverage or else he'll beat you with a long pass. He can scramble and throw the ball down field. He has a strong arm and can beat you if you don't contain him and keep him in the pocket. We just have to stay with our guys in the secondary and don't let anybody get loose.''
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt and his staff believed they learned some things from playing those other quarterbacks this season.
"There will be defenses where the outside linebacker will be the contain guy (for Daniels), and there might be a defense where the corner is the contain guy and the same with a defensive lineman,'' Wannstedt said. "So, it all depends which defense is called, but the end result has to be the same. He makes big plays.
"We all know about his running ability, but half of his long pass plays he's moving in the pocket. And that's a whole different issue to deal with from the normal drop-back guy. ... I showed our team a couple highlights on him against Florida State, and we all know the athletes down there. So, our guys have a lot of respect for these players, but we'll have our work cut out for us.''
Sixth-year senior middle linebacker Adam Gunn believed that Daniels was the most athletic quarterback in the nation this season.
"I have no problem saying that after watching him on TV and on film,'' Gunn said. "With the way he runs around and can throw the ball downfield, mostly on the run, he does a great job. He's a great athlete.
"So, we really have to contain him to win this game. (And) we'll have to do a better job this week (than we did in the past). We can't have another game like that to be successful against South Florida this week.''
Pitt junior safety Dom DeCicco is well aware of the task at hand.
"Grothe was a terrific quarterback, but Daniels has a really strong arm,'' DeCicco said. "And I think he's going to be a very good quarterback for them in the future. He's pretty good right now, and he's definitely somebody we need to be aware of, what he does on the field and where he's at on the field.
"Instead of covering their receivers for 3-4 seconds, we'll need to be secure back there for 8-9 with the way Daniels scrambles around. So, we really have to be aware of him and contain him. You just have to stay with your guy, because he has a great arm and can make those throws on the run.
"You have to be ready at all times for scramble coverage,'' DeCicco added. "Me and Elijah watched their game against Cincinnati, and Daniels is more than a running quarterback. He really does it all for their offense, but he's a passing threat, as well as a runner, and they have a lot of good athletes. So, they really can be dangerous on offense if we let Daniels get on a roll.''
And Pitt's defense will be challenged more than it has in any other game this season.
USF QB Daniels Is Dangerous
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