Four years later, Daniels still a danger

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- He completed just eight passes, but every one was significant. He ran for 126 yards on the ground, dismantling Florida State's defense each time he rolled out of the pocket. He led an improbable victory in front of his hometown fans, breaking their hearts in the process.

That 17-7 win over Florida State in 2009 was USF quarterback B.J. Daniels' first career start, and even now, four years later, it's probably his most memorable.

"B.J. being from Tallahassee, it was kind of his coming-out party," FSU quarterback EJ Manuel said.

In the years since Daniels' staged USF's coming-of-age moment at Doak Campbell Stadium, he's had his share of highs and lows, finding similar magic in a win at Notre Dame in 2011 but also falling far short of expectations, including last week's debacle at Ball State.

But while Daniels has struggled to recapture the glory of his first start with any sort of consistency, the senior quarterback still represents a potential thorn in the side of a Florida State defense coming off its most problematic game in nearly a year.

Clemson torched the vaunted FSU defense for 426 yards and 37 points last week, while mobile quarterback Tajh Boyd extended plays outside the pocket, ran the ball 16 times for 56 yards, routinely frustrating the Seminoles with misdirection before unleashing deep balls for big plays.

It's a recipe for success that Daniels is more than capable of recreating.

"I did get kind of caught up last week with what the quarterback was doing in the backfield and all the misdirection and things that were going on," said FSU safety Terrence Brooks, who made a game-high 12 tackles but was on the wrong end of two Clemson touchdowns. "It kind of got me out of what I really needed to focus on and take care of my job. You just learn from it really. You've got to balance it out and do what you can do and just play hard."

Daniels has come a long way since his win over Florida State in 2009, and he's developed significantly as a passer. Through four games this season, he's on pace to easily eclipse his previous career highs for passing yards and touchdowns.

But for all of Daniels' growth as a passer, his undoing has been turnovers, including a game-ending interception at the Ball State 9-yard line on the final play of last week's loss. The task of protecting the football gets even tougher this week against an FSU defense eager to earn some retribution following a subpar performance against Clemson.

"They fly around to the ball, they have a strong front on the inside. Outside, their ends are good. They are physical at the skill positions as far as the secondary," Daniels said. "Just them as a corps, or a group, they do some really good things."

USF plans to shuffle its offensive line a bit this week to combat a ferocious Seminoles' pass rush, but few teams have found a solution for Bjoern Werner, Cornellius Carradine and the Florida State front four.

"My wife can look at the tape and tell you they are pretty damn good," USF offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said.

Of course, the odds certainly seemed stacked in Florida State's favor four years ago, too, but the mobile Daniels was the great equalizer.

There are only a handful of Seminoles still around who experienced Daniels' coming-out party, but the message has been sent by the veterans who remain.

Florida State is riding high, fresh off a big win. USF is struggling to find its footing after a tough loss. But Daniels and the rest of the underwhelming Bulls know what a win over Florida State can mean.

"That's the thing with teams like South Florida that obviously have talent but didn't get recruited by UF or Florida State," Dustin Hopkins said. "They go there, they're still talented, and they have a chip on their shoulder. They come out to play, and they're dangerous. It's like their Super Bowl. They're talented and they're ready."

Noles to watch:

1. Brooks. After an up-and-down performance against Clemson, Brooks spent the final minutes of the game mulling his mistakes. But the safety also had 12 tackles and was a key cog in limiting Boyd's ability to make plays with his legs. Still, Fisher said this week he'd like to see more of sophomore Karlos Williams, which could cut into Brooks' playing time.

2. Rashad Greene. On a positive note, Greene scored his first receiving touchdown of the season against Clemson, but the sophomore has just 11 catches for 115 yards so far this season. Through four games a year ago, he had racked up 14 catches for 294 yards and five TDs. Greene has supplemented his offensive efforts on special teams, where he has two punt returns for touchdowns, but he's also fumbled away two punts.

3. Chris Thompson. The senior tailback has rushed for 300 yards in his last two games, and he could become the first FSU runner with three straight games of 100-plus yards on the ground since Jermaine Thomas did it in 2009. In FSU's 2009 loss to USF, the Seminoles gained just 19 yards rushing.

Bulls to watch:

1. Daniels. The talented senior racked up seven touchdowns and just one interception in USF's first two games of the season, both wins, but has just three TDs and five interceptions in the last two, both losses.

2. Andre Davis. The USF sophomore has 23 catches for 309 yards and three touchdowns already this season, but the bulk of his success came in a Week 2 win over Nevada, in which he caught 12 balls for 191 yards and two scores, including a 56-yard bomb.

3. Sam Barrington. The linebacker was a key cog in USF's 2009 win over Florida State, making four tackles in the game. He's been perhaps USF's best defender this year, too, racking up 27 tackles -- including three for a loss -- with two pass break-ups and two forced fumbles.

By the numbers:

20. That's the number of rushing touchdowns for Florida State through just four games in 2012, a total that matches or exceeds the Seminoles' tally for the entire year in 20 of their last 40 seasons.

17. That's the average differential in starting field position between Florida State and its opponents this season. On average, FSU is beginning its drives at its own 41-yard line, tops in the ACC and third best in the nation, while Hopkins' work on directional kickoffs has opponents starting, in average, at their own 24.

17. That's also the number of touchdown drives for Florida State this season that lasted less than two minutes, more than any other team in the country. FSU also has the most touchdown drives of three plays or fewer (11), making the Seminoles the nation's most dangerous big-play offense.*

7. That's the number of consecutive home games South Florida has lost to teams from BCS conferences. USF's only home win over a team from an automatic qualifier conference since Skip Holtz took over as head coach three years ago was a 28-27 defeat of Rutgers on Nov. 3, 2010. Overall, Holtz is 1-8 against BCS schools at home with USF.

3.5. That's the number of tackles for loss by USF's starting defensive linemen this season. By contrast, FSU's defensive line starters have racked up 18.5.

(*Courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information.)