JT Daniels is noticeably confident as WVU’s new starting quarterback.
He slid into the role with plenty of experience, having played four seasons of college football already in his career. Even before those years, his arm talent was apparent and earned him a five-star rating in the class of 2018.
Daniels’s first task as the signal-caller was a difficult one — perform in the biggest game in recent WVU football memory in front of the biggest crowd in Pittsburgh sports history. The former Trojan and Bulldog didn’t let the crowd of 70,622 (mostly hostile) fans get in his head.
“The environment of a student section being right in front…is surreal your first few times,” Daniels said. “Then after that, you just enjoy it for what it is.”
Daniels leaned on his experience in the contest and it helped him put together a strong debut performance: 214 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He mustered a 59-percent completion rate, but if the six dropped passes calculated by Neal Brown are factored out of that number, it rises to 69.7 percent (and it eliminates the pick).
While his place in the box score impresses the masses, Daniels turned even more heads by doing things that aren’t quantified. Brown felt before the game that his quarterback would be “even keel” in the opener based on what he had seen throughout camp. He didn’t know just how even keel he would be once the game kicked off, and the coach wasn’t disappointed.
Daniels’s experience manifested in two areas: in-game adjustments and leadership. Brown said Daniels was communicative on the sideline, telling his coaches exactly what he was seeing. That helped WVU’s offense adjust to Pitt’s defense as it continually gathered intel throughout the game.
“That’s not the case with every quarterback, so that was something that was extremely positive,” Brown said.
Daniels brought that knowledge on the field as well and turned it into two touchdowns, as both of his scores to Bryce Ford-Wheaton were checked routes at the line of scrimmage.
That’s just part of what Daniels has control over before the snap due to the trust his coaches have in him.
“In general, I think [Harrell] is all for it. He definitely allows for me to do what I can within the system, but for the most part, there’s a lot of answers that we have built-in on every single play and our whole offense. It’s one of the great things about this offense,” Daniels said.
The contributions to in-game adjustments are great in the short term, but his reactions to the final result could have a lasting impact. Daniels gave a passionate press conference after the week one loss, expressing confidence in his team with the help of some colorful language.
He also came to the defense — and support — of Ford-Wheaton, who committed one unfortunate error that put Pitt in the lead and a small stain on Daniels’s stat line.
“After the play, I said, ‘Who cares? It makes the story cooler,'” Daniels said after the Pitt game on Sept 1. “If I throw Bryce 1,000 stop routes, that might happen once. It’s unlucky. It’s a fluke thing that happened and it happened. To me, as soon as that play is over, I’m like, ‘Alright, next play. Let’s go out and score.'”
Brown said he is looking for that kind of leadership out of his quarterback.
“I loved the interview that he did after the game,” Brown said. “I can do without the language, but I thought just talking about his teammates and his beliefs, that was powerful stuff.”