B.J. Daniels went down on a typical B.J. Daniels play, dragging two players on his back while fighting for every bit of every last yard he could muster for his team.
Only later did we get word we would never see Daniels play for the Bulls again, his final year cut short when he broke his leg and sprained his ankle on a running play late in a 13-6 win over UConn on Saturday night. Daniels left Raymond James Stadium in a wheelchair, with a cast on one leg and a boot on the other, his parents at his side, his million-dollar smile gone.
Three regular-season games remain in the season, and USF will have to find a way to move on without the one player who did everything in his power to elevate the Bulls from good to great.
Did he accomplish all his goals? No. Daniels never won the Big East championship he desperately wanted for his beloved program, and the Bulls are in the middle of another losing season, all with him under center. As the very public face of the USF program -- and the starting quarterback with so much raw potential -- Daniels has been an easy target for criticism and old-man jokes throughout his career with the Bulls.
Now that his career has ended, it will be easy for folks to continue to question whether he lived up to the expectations that greeted him every year. But the truth is, Daniels was forced to carry his team at times all on his own -- and more than any other player in the Big East over the same period of time. Yes, quarterbacks have a much bigger burden to bear, but the criticism of Daniels has been withering at times without much perspective placed on what he has or has not accomplished.
You do not compile 10,501 yards of total offense by being bad, or even mediocre.
"I don’t know that you can measure what he’s brought to this university," coach Skip Holtz said Monday on the Big East coaches call. "For a lot of the naysayers out there that think he didn’t accomplish what a lot of people expected him to accomplish or us to accomplish while he was here, I don’t think it’s a reflection of him. Even in this stretch where we lost six games, four times the offense scored with under two minutes to go to take the lead. If you’re able to hold onto those leads, then B.J. Daniels is viewed as a quarterback that’s led them back.
"I look at where he was three years ago as an athlete, and where he is today as a quarterback. ... I don’t think you can measure what he’s brought to this program. I know everybody wants to evaluate him on wins and losses or how many championships are next to his name, but I don’t think you can put that on him because he’s done everything we’ve asked of him."
Daniels had different offensive coordinators in his first two seasons, so start with that. He has never had a 1,000-yard receiver or 1,000-yard running back. Only this year did he have a true playmaker on offense for the first time in his career, with receiver Andre Davis. Daniels was asked to run too much (led the team in rushing in 2009); then was asked to stop running so much, then was asked to find a happy medium between the two.
As Holtz says, Daniels got no defensive help this year in the close games the Bulls lost. That is the shame of it, because Daniels was coming into his own as a quarterback and not just an athlete playing quarterback. This season, Daniels was on pace to break the Big East career mark for total yards of offense, as well as his own career marks for passing yards and passing touchdowns.
Daniels had shortcomings, yes. But nobody will ever question his toughness, dedication, hard work and leadership. After the game Saturday, every single teammate walked from the locker room to the training room to give Daniels words of encouragement. Folks outside of Florida may not know much about USF football, but they surely could tell you Daniels is the starting quarterback.
"I think we’re going to find out how important he was to this program as we play without him," Holtz said.
Perhaps the naysayers will, too.