MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – While he may be new to WVU, JT Daniels is no stranger to college football.
The same “even keel demeanor” and experience in big games that earned him the role of QB1 were on full display in his Mountaineer debut.
Daniels connected on 23 of his 40 pass attempts for 214 yards and two touchdowns vs. the Panthers. He faced plenty of pressure and some big hits from Pitt’s experienced defensive line and he wasn’t rattled one bit.
One example was his 1-yard touchdown to give West Virginia the 31-24 lead into the 4th quarter, the first rushing TD of his collegiate career.
“I’m going to give it everything I’ve got no matter what the situation is. If you watched this game, I think you’ll see this whole team has that in them,” Daniels said.
The grit displayed by his teammates is one of the first things Daniels noted after the game and he said he was proud of how they battled until the final play.
“I think from all things you can fix from a week to week basis, execution is one of them. Culture and fighting, a team of fighters, you can’t fix that, and this team can fight,” Daniels said. “There’s a lot that I am very optimistic about with this team.”
The Mountaineers found themselves in a handful of adverse situations. One of the most notable came after Pitt used a 7-play, 92-yard drive to tie things up at 31 a piece.
The first play of the following drive for Daniels and company picked up the first down. It’s what happened next that changed the outcome.
Daniels’s pass to Bryce Ford-Wheaton, the receiver that caught two touchdowns earlier in the game, bounced right off Ford-Wheaton’s hands and into the arms of a defender. MJ Devonshire returned that interception 56 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
“If I throw Bryce a thousand stop routes, that might happen once. It’s a fluke thing that happened,” Daniels said. “To me, as soon as that play happened it’s like ‘alright, next play. Let’s go out and score.’ I think we did a great job in the last two minutes of the game. We weren’t put in a great situation. I think we did a great job giving it all we had.”
West Virginia had 2:58 to come up with a response, and it looked like it was going to do just that. A 32-yard pass to tight end Mike O’Laughlin down the sideline put the Mountaineers in scoring position.
Daniels was sacked for a loss of 10 yards then another sack for a loss of 5 yards two plays later which negated the progress.
With 27 seconds to go, Daniels found a diving Reese Smith. Initially, it seemed like Smith made a heroic catch for the ages on 4th and 16. It put WVU just outside the goal line.
After further review by the officials, it was ruled an incomplete pass, sealing the 38-31 victory for the Panthers.
Daniels and Smith stood there together patiently waiting for the call. After it was determined, he grabbed Smith and told him he was proud of him.
“I don’t know how many targets he had that game, I don’t think it was too many, but he really didn’t give a [care]. He was ready to go as soon as his number was called,” Daniels said.
“They gave us a two-man look. Reese read it perfectly. I think he ran a great route. I think I could have gotten it up a little bit and tried to keep it away from both safeties that were collapsing on it. Reese has caught a few of those in practice and I think he caught it. I was really proud of him.”
Daniels agrees there are a number of plays his offense left out there. He knows they learned a few lessons the hard way, but despite the result, he remains optimistic about the future of his team.
“You can clean up execution and we will clean up execution. There were a lot of points we left on the table. It’s going to happen sometimes,” Daniels said. “The things that you can’t fix, we don’t have to fix. This team will fight, will go to war. That’s a team I’m proud of and a team I am proud to be on.”