The wind swept briskly through UB Stadium during the University at Buffalo’s hourlong scrimmage Saturday morning, but the harsh elements didn’t seem to disturb Tony Daniel and the other quarterbacks.
Daniel continued to solidify his position as the No. 2 quarterback behind incumbent Joe Licata by unofficially completing 10 of 14 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown. The highlight for Daniel, a 6-foot-5 junior from Hiram, Ga., came on a 31-yard flare pass to tailback Devin Campbell for a touchdown.
“I clearly see Tony being the top guy at this point,” UB coach Jeff Quinn said.
It was to be expected that Daniel would be the proverbial one snap away. He is heading into his fourth year with the team and experience alone gets him the nod over sophomore Collin Michael, who worked with the scout team last season, and redshirt freshman Craig Slowik.
“We hit our first two drives and went right down and scored,” Daniel said. “I thought it was a pretty good day overall. … Our coaches were telling us, ‘Hey, if you make a check, just go with it, we’re not going to get mad – just do what you know and go for it.’ That’s really the biggest thing right now, getting more comfortable with the checks when the defense lines up.”
Daniel’s growing comfort at the position has allowed the game to progress in front of him slowly in real time. This wasn’t the case in the past.
“It’s getting better and as practice goes on we’re finally getting reps,” Daniel said. “It’s definitely helping slow the game down, and with reps comes more knowledge of what you’re going to have when the defense lines up. Getting more comfortable with that is helping the game slow down for me.”
As Licata recovers from offseason hip surgery, Daniel has taken advantage of the additional snaps and made strides since the start of spring practice.
“Tony did a nice job, he stayed in the pocket, the big guys up front gave him some nice time and that allowed him to get to a second and third read and his check-down receivers,” Quinn said. “I thought he did a nice job capitalizing on it. He did a nice job operating, and there were no major issues. He checked us into a couple of plays, which is a sign of a kid who really understands what we need at that position,” Quinn said. “He did a really nice job.”
With Daniel the clear No. 2, the real battle is who will be the third quarterback between Michael and Slowik. A native of Lexington, Ohio, Michael was unofficially 5 of 10 for 72 yards and a 40-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Jacob Martinez. Michael also gained 5 yards on a rollout.
Michael said he’s beginning to recognize how to tie-in defensive fronts into coverages, which enables him to make quicker reads.
“It’s a big transition going from scout team to full speed,” Michael said. “Even from second string to first string is a big jump, but it’s really slowing down. As you get more confidence with the offense, the defense slows down for you, too. With film study, you see and recognize things faster. It’s a process.”
The 6-4 Slowik, from Joliet, Ill., was part of the biggest gain of the day, a 70-yard slip screen to sophomore tailback Jordan Johnson. Slowik was 2 of 6 for 105 yards.
“You wish you had Joe out there, but the other guys have been stepping up great,” said senior wide receiver Devon Hughes about the quarterbacks. “They’ve been slinging the rock, man. They’ve been doing really good.”
But Quinn has his concerns about the passing game – like the timing of the throws and routes, receivers running at the right depth and making the proper cuts and ball security. Michael once hit Marcus McGill in the numbers, but the junior from Rochester dropped the pass.
“Obviously, that could create some disruptiveness in terms of the flow of your offense when you have guys open and not catch the ball,” Quinn said. “But they came back. One thing I can say about our receiving corps is they kept fighting and they kept competing. I saw each of those guys who may have dropped an early pass come back and make some tough catches.”
The defense had its moments, like back-to-back sacks by true freshman Juwan Jackson on Daniel, which dropped the offense’s drive back to its own 5. The second-team defense also had a goal-line stand against the third-string offense.