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JT Daniels: Freshman season in review

The USC quarterback’s best and worst games on the year

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

USC quarterback JT Daniels had a very up and down season in his first year at the helm of the offense. His best games were highlighted by great throws and acrobatic plays. His worst games were filled with ill-advised throws and poor decisions. Here are the best and worst games from the freshman quarterback’s season:

Best games:

Week 4: USC vs. Washington State

  • Stats: 17-26, 241 yards, 3 touchdowns, 65.4 completion percentage

The matchup against the Washington State Cougars was arguably Daniels’ best performance on the year. In this game, Daniels threw for 3 touchdowns and had a multitude of great throws. One of these throws came on a two-point conversion pass in coverage to wide receiver Tyler Vaughns that can be seen here:

In this game, Daniels looked to throw the ball to the outside a lot, giving his receivers a chance to go out and get it. He connected with his receivers consistently on run-pass options. On one of these RPO’s, Daniels connects with standout freshman wide receiver on a 30-yard touchdown pass.

Daniels consistently made the right decisions throughout the game, which was evident by the zero turnovers committed on his part. Flashes of brilliance were seen, with it being arguably his most complete game on the year. It was his first collegiate game with multiple touchdowns and his first win against a marquee team in the Pac-12.

Week 13: USC vs. Notre Dame

  • Stats: 37-51, 349 yards, 1 touchdown, 72.5 completion percentage

Daniels’ performance against Notre Dame was not the reason they lost. Anyone who saw the game would have seen how well the true freshman quarterback played against the number 3 team in the country. The matchup against the Fighting Irish was a primetime game where true freshman quarterbacks are expected to struggle. Daniels did not. He put in one of his best performances on the year in one of the biggest games of the season. While most of Daniels’ throws were short, intermediate throws, he was also able to get his deep ball going against the stellar Notre Dame defense. In this video clip, Daniels completes a deep throw in tight coverage to wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. on third down.

USC took a 10-7 lead into the half but ultimately lost 24-17. Notre Dame defended Daniels and the USC offense much better in the second half but that didn’t take away from the stellar performance that Daniels displayed in the last game of the season. He drew raving reviews from a lot of fans, including this one:

Worst games

Week 2: USC @ Stanford

  • Stats: 16-34, 215 yards, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 1 fumble lost, 47.1 completion percentage

This game was simply a disaster for the Trojans. This matchup was supposed to be a great one, with two top 20 teams battling it out. In reality, it was a very ugly game to watch filled with turnovers on the Trojan’s end. One player in particular struggled mightily in this one. That was JT Daniels. Although it was his second ever game in college, he failed to perform the way he did in Week 1 where he threw for 282 yards and a touchdown. It was a mistake filled game for Daniels where he accounted for all three of the Trojan turnovers. The one bright spot in the game was that he was able to establish connections with wide receivers Michael Pittman Jr. and Tyler Vaughns. Here is a 45-yard deep pass he completed to Pittman Jr.

What could be seen more of, though, were the passes that weren’t completed. Daniels threw for two interceptions and had one fumble. Here are all three of his turnovers:

  • First turnover: fumble

In this turnover, the USC offense is dealing with a fourth and 2 where Daniels makes a costly mistake in Cardinal territory.

  • Second turnover: interception

Of all the turnovers, this one really hurt for Trojan fans. Driving down the field down by two touchdowns, USC needed to score quick in order to have a chance to win. There was less than 3 minutes left in the game. Then this happened:

  • Third turnover: interception

This interception happened when the game was all but over but was still a very poor decision on Daniels’ part.

The one positive that came from this game was the way Daniels handled himself after the game. He showed ownership for his performance, which spoke volumes of the maturity that this true freshman has.

Week 12: USC @ UCLA

  • Stats: 20-34, 337 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 58.8 completion percentage

USC has always been known as the “big brother” to UCLA when it comes to college football. In this one, the roles reversed. Any Trojan fan would tell you that this loss was the one that hurt the most on the year. To lose against against your rival is bad but to lose against your rival that went into the game sporting a 2-8 record is absolutely horrible. Daniels’ performance didn't help. It wasn't that he played terrible that made his performance bad, it was his inability to completely pick apart an atrocious defense and the costly mistakes he made in crucial situations in the game. In what was probably his most ill-advised throw in his entire college career, Daniels threw an absolute duck that resulted in an interception for UCLA cornerback Darnay Holmes.

After UCLA scored field goals on consecutive drives, Daniels had the opportunity to drive down the field, score a touchdown and potentially win the game. He had the chance to make his mark in this storied rivalry and lead the Trojans to victory. On a crucial fourth and 4 in UCLA territory, Daniels and the rest of the Trojan offense just couldn't make a play happen.

It was Daniels’ tenth game on the year. At that point he wasn't expected to make stupid mistakes against a bad team that could cost USC the game. USC and Daniels were supposed to come into this game and handle business but got outplayed at basically every position on the field and arguably at the quarterback position. That is what made this performance one of Daniels’ most disappointing on the year.

Moving forward into the 2019 season

Daniels is expected to show major improvements heading into next season, especially with new offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury at the helm calling plays. The schedule next year is filled with many tough games. These are the games that Daniels must play well in if USC has any hopes of having a successful season:

  • Week 2: USC vs. Stanford (rivalry game)
  • Week 3: USC @ BYU (non-conference road game)
  • Week 5: USC @ Washington (tough conference road game)
  • Week 7: USC @ Notre Dame (rivalry game)
  • Week 10: USC vs. Oregon (quarterback matchup with Justin Herbert)