Grading New College Football Starting QBs' Week 1 Performances
You only get one chance to make a first impression.
For a number of FBS quarterbacks, that time was this past weekend. In the power-five conferences, 15 quarterbacks started their first collegiate game, with Louisville-Miami, the weekend's final game, featuring a pair of first-time starters.
Their performances ran the gamut. Some excelled, while one didn’t even make it out of the first half.
Here’s an attempt at grading the new quarterbacks’ first starts. We only looked at the power-five conferences and did not include any transfer quarterbacks who had made starts elsewhere (like Wes Lunt at Illinois, Jacoby Brissett at NC State or Tyler Murphy at Boston College).
Quarterbacks were evaluated on the quality of their statistics, with the caliber of opponent also taken into consideration in the final grade.
J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
The Line: 12-of-15, 226 passing yards, two touchdowns, one interception; 50 yards rushing
A month ago, no one would have expected freshman J.T. Barrett to start Ohio State’s opener in Baltimore. After all, Barrett was behind the Buckeyes’ leader, senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller.
But after Miller was forced to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery, Barrett was thrust into the spotlight. He passed his first test largely with flying colors. Ohio State trailed, 7-6, at the half, and Barrett tossed a red-zone interception while throwing mostly conservative passes. Bill Landis of Cleveland.com said Barrett's throws were mostly safe and simple.
After halftime, he helped the Buckeyes pull away with a trio of scoring drives, including an 80-yard touchdown strike to Devin Smith. OSU fans have to be thinking positive after the way Barrett fared in his first start.
Michael Brewer, Virginia Tech
The Line: 23-of-30, 251 yards, two touchdowns, one interception.
Michael Brewer transferred from Texas Tech to Virginia Tech for a chance to play, and he got it after winning a three-way battle for the Hokies’ starting-quarterback job. Brewer was impressive in a 34-9 win over FCS foe William & Mary, throwing for 251 yards with two touchdowns against just one interception.
He’ll face a much stiffer test next week when Tech travels to Ohio State, but this was a positive development. Coach Frank Beamer and offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler can trust him going forward.
Will Gardner, Louisville
The Line 20-of-28, 206 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions.
Will Gardner faced an unenviable task in replacing Teddy Bridgewater, an NFL first-round pick, as Louisville's quarterback. Facing Miami's defense in the Cardinals' ACC debut wasn't easy either, but Gardner largely rose to the task Monday night. He must improve his ball security after losing a pair of fumbles, but ran the Cardinals' offense efficiently, throwing for over 200 yards while averaging 7.4 yards per pass attempt.
The loss of top receiver DeVante Parker to a foot injury limits Louisville's offense, but Gardner did a solid job in his first collegiate start. He wasn't asked to win the game with his arm alone (tailback Dominique Brown carried 33 times for 143 yards and a touchdown) but he didn't lose it, either. It was a good launching point for his 2014 season.
Kenny Hill, Texas A&M
The Line: 44-of-60, 511 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions
Johnny who? This fall, one of college football’s biggest questions was who would replace Johnny Manziel as Texas A&M’s quarterback. Thursday night, Kenny Hill answered those questions emphatically.
Hill broke Manziel’s A&M single-game passing record, throwing for 511 yards in the Aggies’ 52-28 rout of No. 9 South Carolina. He told reporters, including Kate Hairopoulous of The Dallas Morning News, that he was more than prepared to step into Manziel's shoes.
"I was more excited than nervous," Hill said. "I’ve been ready for this my whole life...We were ready to go and prove everybody wrong and show that we can be good without Johnny."
He averaged 8.5 yards per attempt and looked completely comfortable in the high-profile role, one he’ll keep for the foreseeable future. Hill beat out true freshman Kyle Allen (rated as the nation’s top pro-style quarterback in the 2014 class by 247Sports) for the job and showed that there is, in fact, life after Manziel in College Station.
Brad Kayaa, Miami
The Line 17-of-29, 174 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions.
Brad Kaaya was a surprise starter for Miami's season opener, beating out fifth-year senior Jake Heaps and taking the reins of the Hurricanes' offense for a difficult season opener at Louisville. And quite frankly, Kaaya looked like a freshman, with the 'Canes' offense suffering for it. Miami failed on its first 11 third down tries before finally converting in the third quarter. And after they finally converted, Kaaya threw a bad interception to kill momentum. He added another one in the Louisville red zone on the game's final play.
Papa John's Cardinal Stadium isn't an easy environment for opponents, especially with a Monday night crowd fired up for Louisville's ACC debut. But Kaaya will have to improve for the Hurricanes to contend in the ACC Coastal Division.
Greyson Lambert, Virginia
The Line: 16-of-23, 112 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions.
All spring and summer, Virginia coaches and players touted Greyson Lambert as the quarterback who could turn around the Cavaliers’ offensive fortunes.
That confidence lasted less than two quarters.
Lambert threw a pair of pick-sixes to UCLA defenders and was pulled late in the first half, with backup Matt Johns nearly erasing a 21-3 deficit before coming up short in a 28-20 defeat.
It’s unclear whether Lambert will get another shot at leading UVA’s offense. Virginia coach Mike London told Doug Doughty of The Roanoke Times that UVA "doesn't have a quarterback controversy," but didn't name a starter for this week. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Cavs handed Johns the reins going forward. It’s hard to imagine a worse debut for a starting quarterback on Saturday.
Jeff Lindquist, Washington
The Line: 10-of-26, 162 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions.
Washington entered 2014 looking for a starting quarterback, and while Jeff Lindquist lost the battle with Cyler Miles, he got the start Saturday at Hawaii while Miles served a one-game suspension for his role in an offseason fight. The Huskies survived, 17-16, but it wasn’t pretty.
Outside of a 91-yard touchdown to John Ross, Lindquist managed just 71 yards passing on 25 attempts. The touchdown to Ross was UW’s longest offensive play since 2007, but Lindquist was inconsistent otherwise. It is unclear who’ll start next week, but Lindquist didn’t really distinguish himself.
Tanner McEvoy, Wisconsin
The Line: 8-of-24, 50 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions
Tanner McEvoy won a spirited battle with incumbent starter Joel Stave, unseating Wisconsin’s two-year starting quarterback. Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen seems to love McEvoy’s athleticism and versatility that allowed him to slide from wide receiver to safety to quarterback during his Badgers career. He showed little of that against LSU Saturday night, completing 33 percent of his passes for only 50 yards.
Wisconsin blew a 24-7 third-quarter lead in a 28-24 defeat, and while the Badgers moved the ball well on the ground, they did little through the air. The road gets easier from here, but unless McEvoy improves in a hurry, Stave will be back under center soon.
Blake Sims, Alabama
The Line: 24-of-33, 250 yards, one interception.
Blake Sims spent three seasons as AJ McCarron’s backup and won a tight battle over Florida State transfer Jacob Coker to become Alabama’s starter. It was unclear whether the starter would play the entire game in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic against West Virginia or split time with Coker, but Sims started and played every meaningful snap in the Crimson Tide’s 33-23 victory.
He did not throw a touchdown pass but threw for 250 yards with one interception. He managed the game well and Alabama coach Nick Saban only considered taking him out once, in the second quarter, when some miscalled plays caused "some confusion on the field," according to Ralph D. Russo of The Associated Press. Saban didn’t commit to Sims as his starter afterward, but the senior took a clear step forward.
Anu Solomon, Arizona
The Line: 25-of-44, 425 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions.
Anu Solomon beat out a crowded field of competitors to become Arizona’s new starting quarterback, and his debut showed Rich Rodriguez that the coach picked the right guy. Solomon set Arizona’s single-game freshman passing yards mark and the Wildcats rolled up a school-record 787 yards of total offense in a 58-13 rout of UNLV.
Solomon had some early freshman jitters but quickly shook them, throwing touchdown passes of 39, 63 and 92 yards. If there were any questions about his fit for the job, he answered them emphatically. The Wildcats’ schedule will get tougher, but Solomon looks more than ready to learn on the fly.
Cole Stoudt, Clemson
The Line: 15-of-28, 130 yards, no touchdowns, one interception
Cole Stoudt had huge shoes to fill as Clemson’s new starting quarterback: Tajh Boyd is the ACC’s all-time passing touchdown leader and No. 2 in passing yardage. Stoudt faced a tough test in his starting debut against No. 12 Georgia.
After leading a touchdown drive on his opening possession, Clemson had three consecutive three-and-outs and highly touted freshman Deshaun Watson entered, leading a 78-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Charone Peake.
Clemson struggled offensively in the second half, garnering just 15 yards of total offense with no first downs. Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris told Gene Sapakoff of The Post and Courier that Watson is "the future," but Stoudt remains the starter. However, it’s clear that Watson will push him early and often as the season unfolds.
Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech
The Line: 11-of-15, 282 yards passing with two touchdowns, no interceptions; 71 yards rushing.
Sophomore Justin Thomas inherited Georgia Tech’s starting-quarterback role after former starter Vad Lee transferred to FCS program James Madison. And while FCS school Wofford didn’t offer the level of competition he’ll regularly face in the ACC, Thomas was impressive, throwing for 282 yards and rushing for 71 in Tech’s 38-19 victory.
The Yellow Jackets were up only 10-9 at the break but pulled away in the third quarter thanks to a pair of Thomas touchdown tosses to DeAndre Smelter covering 19 and 71 yards. Thomas showed the dual-threat skills needed to thrive in Paul Johnson’s flexbone attack and has a solid hold on the job.
Patrick Towles, Kentucky
The Line: 20-of-29, 377 yards passing, one touchdown, no interceptions; one rushing touchdown
Patrick Towles won a three-man race to emerge as Kentucky’s new starting quarterback, and he didn’t disappoint against overmatched FCS foe UT-Martin. Towles handled the Wildcats’ air raid offense with aplomb, completing passes both short and long and keeping the offensive tempo moving smoothly.
He also showed off his wheels with a 23-yard rushing touchdown. Towles will have some growing pains against tougher SEC defenses, but this was a very encouraging start.
Chad Voytik, Pitt
The Line 10-of-13, 84 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions.
With FCS foe Delaware on the docket Saturday, Chad Voytik didn’t have to do a whole lot to ensure Pitt’s success. But he was impressive with what he did, helping the Panthers build a 42-0 halftime lead on the way to a 62-0 domination of the Blue Hens.
Voytik threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to star sophomore wideout Tyler Boyd and deftly orchestrated the offense, which performed efficiently on the strength of James Conner’s four touchdown runs. Voytik will be tested much more in the coming weeks, but this was a respectable start.
John Wolford, Wake Forest
The Line: 12-of-22, 97 yards, no touchdowns, one interception.
John Wolford won Wake Forest’s starting job as a true freshman, but he inherited a difficult situation with the Demon Deacons rebuilding under first-year coach Dave Clawson. His opener wasn’t easy, either: Wake traveled to face a Louisiana-Monroe team that beat the Deacs last fall in Winston-Salem. Wake couldn’t get anything going offensively, finishing with 94 yards of total offense in a 17-10 defeat.
Its only touchdown came on a blocked punt returned for a score. Wolford will get a chance to grow with the job, but if the opening night is any indication, there will certainly be some growing pains along the way.