It is no secret that college football coaches love getting transfers with playing experience prior to arriving at their respective school, and that is exactly what West Virginia’s Neal Brown got with quarterback JT Daniels.
Despite not joining the Mountaineers until spring practice, Daniels came to Morgantown with four years of Power Five football under his belt at USC and Georgia.
This gave Daniels an edge entering camp, as he and the West Virginia receivers started to gain comfort and trust with each other on the field rather quickly.
“You pretty much know it, like, the first day (of practice) to be honest,” Daniels said during a news conference Monday. “I’ve thrown a lot of footballs and played with a lot of good receivers. There’s a lot of good receivers here (at West Virginia).”
Through one game, Daniels and the Mountaineers receivers have shown they know how to remain in a mutual understanding with each other, with Daniels having the ability to change protection and routes with the use of hand signals.
With the adjustment of routes to match the defensive scheme West Virginia is facing, Daniels and his receivers have to maintain a strong aspect of timing to be able to beat the opposition through the air.
Daniels, however, turned this idea down, saying it is all based on the trust he and his teammates have.
“With ‘timing’, I don’t want to say it’s over-hyped, but to a certain extent, it is,” Daniels said. “I had never thrown with these receivers before until the first day of practice, and we figured it out. I know where they’re supposed to be at what time. They know where they’re supposed to be at what time. The ball just has to get there.”
Daniels backed these comments by throwing two touchdown passes to West Virginia’s top receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton, with both scores coming after Daniels changed the routes to fades after seeing 1-on-1 press coverage by Pittsburgh defensive backs.
Ford-Wheaton caught a jump ball over Pittsburgh defender AJ Woods in the second quarter for the Mountaineers’ first points, and hauled in another touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Daniels also came very close to leading a game-tying scoring drive after the Panthers took a 38-31 lead with just over two minutes to go in the fourth. The Mountaineers drove to the Pittsburgh 28, but faced a 4th and 16 with 27 seconds left. Daniels then attempted a pass to Reese Smith on a post route in between three Panthers defenders.
Smith hauled in the low ball just short of the goal line, but after originally being called a catch, the pass was ruled incomplete, allowing Pittsburgh to kneel out the clock.
“Reese was one-on-one with a guy that couldn’t see the ball,” Daniels said. “Pitt was playing two deep safeties. So, the ball had to be thrown to the back shoulder, or a diving low ball, and it would’ve been a safe catch. I wish it was five to six inches higher.”
Though Daniels was critical of himself on this final play, he and his teammates haven’t let the ‘what could’ve been’ mindset stay with them, despite the Mountaineers also tallying six drops and a fumble in the contest.
West Virginia will continue to carry the positives going into Saturday’s home opener against Kansas. Seven different receivers caught passes from Daniels to total 214 yards. Ford-Wheaton had a game-high nine receptions for 97 yards to pair with his two touchdowns, while Sam James recorded 50 yards on five catches.
Daniels and the receiver rotation will have to remain sharp against the Jayhawks four-down defense, led by All-Big 12 safety Kenny Logan.
“I think we did a good job for the most part with our route spacing and detail,” Daniels said. “We capitalized on a lot of big plays, and there were a few that we were really close on. I think, in general, (the performance) was really good. It’s just something that gets better playing against good defensive backs.”