Notre Dame football: Consistency key for Daniels

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - Parts of DaVaris Daniels game are reaching the prime-time level.

The primary component that’s missing is consistency.

In Saturday’s victory over BYU, for the third time in his Notre Dame football career, the 6-foot-2, 203-pound junior receiver surpassed the 100-yard mark in receiving yards. He hauled in six passes for 107 yards, including a 61-yard hookup with Tommy Rees for a touchdown.

The big-picture concern with Daniels is that he hasn’t been able to put together back-to-back big games.

That’s what makes Saturday’s regular-season finale at Stanford so important for him. With TJ Jones’ time with the Irish winding down, now is the time for Daniels to take his step forward.

“He’s making plays all over the field,” Jones said of Daniels. “If the ball wasn’t coming to (tight end) Troy (Niklas) or myself, he was the one catching it, whether it’s a touchdown or a crucial third down.”

“You get (Daniels) one-on-one, he’s a great player,” said Rees. “He’s really come along nicely through the year. TJ has had an awesome year. When (defenses) focus on him, any time you have two guys who can make plays for you like that, they help each other out.

“(Daniels) did a great job of being in tune and making some great plays for us.”

Against BYU, even with the extreme cold, occasional snow and constantly swirling wind, Rees had an idea it could be a big game for the offense.

Ever a student of the game, Rees recognized beforehand that the Cougars weren’t playing with a full deck in the secondary. Besides coming into the game a little short on capable bodies, coach Bronco Mendenhall said it got worse when, just before the team left its hotel for the stadium, corner Robertson Daniel became violently ill.

“We watch film on the guys,” Daniels said. “In the game, it really doesn’t matter. You’re just trying to make a play. It’s a mindset. It doesn’t matter who it is (playing defense).”

After treatment, Daniel was able to play, but both Daniels and Jones were difficult to keep up with. Jones had five catches for 95 yards to go along with Daniels’ numbers. Rees completed 15 of 28 passes for 235 yards and Daniels’ TD.

Several times BYU defenders were beaten so badly they couldn’t play the ball. All they had was to catch up with the Irish receivers and try to knock the ball loose.

“The way (BYU defensive backs) had been playing us, they were taking us kinda tight and we felt we could get behind them,” Daniels said. “Coach (offensive coordinator Chuck Martin) called up a play for me to just run a ‘go.’ Luckily they bit on the play-fake (by Rees) and I was able to get behind them and run for the rest (for the 61-yard TD).

“In practice, we knew what the weather was going to be and we were still calling all these plays that we ran in the game. We were ready (for the weather).

“You just have to stick with your plan. If (the defenders) play you aggressive, you come back to the ball, nine times out of 10 you’re going to get a (pass interference penalty) call (the Irish got a couple). You have to play the ball the way you know how to play the ball. Nothing changes for us.”

Having a potent ground game (235 yards rushing) didn’t hurt Daniels’ effort, either.

“(The success in the ground game) helped a lot,” Daniels said. “Any time you can get the run game working, you get the safeties to come up. (Defensive backs) will look inside a little more. It makes the job on our side a little easier. It definitely happened.”

Daniels broke the century mark in receiving yards in the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama (6 catches, 115 yards) last year and early this season against Purdue (8, 167). He has caught 41 passes for 641 yards and six TDs this year.

He won’t really know the degree of progress toward that consistency until the Irish play their last two games.

“It wasn’t (a breakout game), I’ve done it before,” Daniels said. “It’s just something I need to do on a regular basis. It’s been a while since I’ve had one, so...

“(Consistency) is tough. Nobody really knows what kinds of pains you’re going through (Daniels wouldn’t specify) or whatever limitations you have. Regardless, you have to be the playmaker on the team.

“The confidence has always been there. This has been the best I’ve felt (physically) in a while. I had a pretty good week in practice. I guess that’s what led to this game.”

Now he has to figure out what leads to more just like it.

That’s the missing piece of the puzzle.

 Notre Dame wide receiver DaVaris Daniels (10) breaks away for a touchdown during an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, at Notre Dame. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER