Grades for Notable Quarterback Performances from Week 1 of College Football

Morgan MoriartyFeatured Columnist ISeptember 7, 2021

Grades for Notable Quarterback Performances from Week 1 of College Football

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    College football's Week 1 kicked off the 2021 season, and with it, we got to see several Power Five quarterbacks take the field for their teams for the first time. Some quarterbacks were featured in prime time and played in marquee matchups, while other new guys were able to start their seasons off against lesser opponents. 

    For each of these guys, there were quite a few takeaways. Which quarterbacks looked the most dominant under center, and who has the longest to go? Did some unexpectedly struggle while others surprised us with some big numbers?

    This week gave us some fantastic freshman performances, some underwhelming showings from big-name guys and a few surprises that are part of what makes college football so great. Let's grade some of the Power Five QBs that stood out the most in their Week 1 performances. 

Ohio State's C.J. Stroud

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    C.J. Stroud had some big shoes to fill as he stepped into Ohio State's starting quarterback role replacing Justin Fields, the No. 11 pick in the NFL draft. If that wasn't enough, Stroud faced a big test right off the bat with a prime-time game at Minnesota on Thursday night. 

    The QB admitted he had some jitters at the start of the game. 

    "In the first half, my mind wasn't right," Stroud said after the game, per Buckeyes Now. "I was kind of all over the place a little bit. I talked to my teammates, praying a lot and just trying to lock back in. I don't think I did terrible, but I definitely didn't do as best as I could in the first half."

    This was evident, especially when Stroud threw a pass behind Chris Olave for a second-quarter interception. However, the redshirt freshman found his stride as the game went on, finishing with 294 yards and four touchdowns. All four of his scores in the second half were long plays, going for 38, 56, 70 and 61 yards. 

    The Buckeyes handily secured a 45-31 win thanks in large part to Stroud's second-half effort. Stroud's confidence should grow, and his play should improve throughout the season with this first big game under his belt. 

    Grade: B 

Alabama's Bryce Young

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    New Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young went into his first start having completed just 11 total passes in his collegiate career. Not to mention he was following previous Alabama QBs in Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones—all of whom are set to be Week 1 starters in the NFL. 

    Although Young was the biggest question mark surrounding Alabama's offense because of his lack of experience, he quickly put any doubts to rest against Miami. 

    Young was cool and collected even in the face of pressure, finishing with 344 yards and four touchdowns, completing 71 percent of his passes and avoiding any interceptions in the 44-13 rout. The four TDs are a school record for an Alabama starting quarterback in his debut.  

    "That's not something I take lightly," Young told ESPN of going into the Alabama record books. "There's been a lot of greats that have played here. But really it's a testament to my teammates and the coaching staff. The line did an amazing job."

    You simply couldn't have asked for a better first outing from the sophomore quarterback. With Young running things, the Tide's offense is looking like it won't skip a beat this season.  

    Grade: A+

Clemson's DJ Uiagalelei

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    Unlike Young, the hype surrounding Uiagalelei was pretty real leading up to this season. That's because the sophomore started in two games last season, replacing Trevor Lawrence when the eventual No. 1 draft pick was sidelined for games against Notre Dame and Boston College while in the COVID-19 protocols following a positive test.

    In Clemson's 47-40 overtime loss to Notre Dame, Uiagalelei set a freshman school record with 439 passing yards, breaking Deshaun Watson's mark of 435 set in 2014.

    Since Uiagalelei wouldn't have had as many meaningful snaps if Lawrence hadn't had to miss two games last season, we'll still consider him a new starter this season.

    Unfortunately for Uiagalelei, any magic he had last season didn't appear against No. 5 Georgia. Uiagalelei was held to just 178 yards and an interception—a costly 74-yard pick-six that gave the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead late in the second quarter. The Tigers offensive line also gave up seven sacks for 46 yards.

    Clemson's offense struggled all night, managing just one fourth-quarter field goal. In fact, the Tigers averaged just three yards per play and had only four drives that went 30 yards or longer.

    It's hard for any quarterback to get things going on offense when you're getting pressured all night, but this was an unexpectedly poor performance from the Tigers' sophomore QB. Uiagalelei can still rebound, but his 2021 season got off to a rocky start to say the least.

    Grade: C-

Florida's Emory Jones

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    There may be a bit of a quarterback controversy brewing in Gainesville, folks. Emory Jones' first start since arriving three years ago went less than ideally. The junior finished with 113 passing yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

    Jones' first interception came during Florida's third offensive series when redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson was actually in at quarterback. Richardson led the Gators to Florida Atlantic's 7-yard line, but his helmet came off on second down, forcing him to the sideline.

    Upon entering the game, Jones didn't get the snap off in time that resulted in a delay of game. Immediately following that penalty, Jones had plenty of time in the pocket and was picked off in the end zone on an ill-advised throw into double coverage.

    On Florida's next offensive possession, Jones led the Gators back to the red zone, but he looked as if he either ran the wrong play or didn't realize it was fourth down when he ran a QB sneak on 4th-and-goal from the 4-yard line. Jones' second interception of the game came on the first play of a late third-quarter drive.

    Richardson, meanwhile, shined brightly in the second half, coming in for Jones after his second pick. He led Florida on a seven-play touchdown drive to put the Gators up 28-0 and had a gorgeous 73-yard touchdown run on Florida's next possession. He capped his night with an impressive 11-yard run that included breaking multiple tackles and hurdling a defender.

    Head coach Dan Mullen remained committed to Jones as his starter while speaking to reporters after the game, but the QB situation is definitely something to keep an eye on in Gainesville in the weeks ahead. 

    Grade: C 

Texas A&M's Haynes King

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    The No. 6 Aggies appeared to be on upset alert early in this one, leading just 10-3 at halftime. TAMU's slow start wasn't helped by King's two first-half interceptions, each stalling drives that were inside Kent State territory. King did throw a four-yard touchdown on the team's first possession, but his overall performance was shaky at best.

    The redshirt freshman appeared to find his stride in the second half, leading the offense on back-to-back scoring drives, but King threw his third interception of the game with 33 seconds left in the third quarter. King did follow that possession up with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Ainias Smith for his second touchdown throw of the day, but his first start was a mixed bag.

    "I thought he handled the adversity extremely well," head coach Jimbo Fisher said, per Saturday Down South. "His demeanor didn't change. He's still throwing that ball between them hashes."

    We'll see if King can improve against Colorado next week. 

    Grade: C+

Florida State's McKenzie Milton

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    Hands-down the best QB story to come out of college football's Week 1 came from Sunday night's game between No. 9 Notre Dame and Florida State. Although FSU's McKenzie Milton isn't technically a completely new quarterback, his performance deserves to be on this list. 

    As you may remember, Milton suffered a gruesome leg injury in 2018 while he was playing at UCF. The injury caused the QB to suffer ligament, nerve and artery damage, so much so that he almost lost his leg. Milton, a three-year starter at UCF, transferred to Florida State following the 2020 season.

    Although Florida State went with sophomore quarterback Jordan Travis as the starter against the Fighting Irish, Milton came in after Travis lost his helmet and was forced to go to the sideline. Milton's first play was a 22-yard completion to receiver Ja'Khi Douglas, and Florida State head coach Mike Norvell opted to leave Milton in since Travis was dealing with muscle cramps. Milton summarily led a 10-point comeback over the final six minutes, helping to send the game to overtime.

    The game ended with FSU missing its field goal in overtime, allowing Notre Dame to make a 41-yard field goal for the win. But Milton being able to come back and play so well is the type of stuff that makes college football so great.

    Grade: A+

South Carolina's Zeb Noland

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    Everyone loves a good underdog story, right?

    This year in college football, look no further than South Carolina's Zeb Noland. Up until last month, Noland was a graduate assistant coach for South Carolina, helping out first-year head coach Shane Beamer in Columbia. Noland played quarterback for Iowa State and North Dakota State from 2017 to '19, landing at South Carolina with his playing days seemingly behind him.

    But thanks to an injury to Gamecocks quarterback Luke Doty and some convincing from Beamer and others on the coaching staff, Noland, who had a year of eligibility left, was thrust into the starting QB role this week against Eastern Illinois. 

    Noland threw for 121 yards and four touchdowns in South Carolina's 46-0 win. 

    "For Zeb, if you knew him, he never intended for this to be a good story; he was just trying to help," Noland's father, Travis, told USA Today. "When they were serious about needing the help, he was like, 'Yeah, I'll do it.' He never anticipated it being a big story, I don't think."

    Although Doty is expected to return as early as next week and take back his starting role, Noland deserves a ton of praise for being able to put together this kind of performance after unexpectedly trading his headset for a helmet. 

    Grade: A+ 

Texas' Hudson Card

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    The Steve Sarkisian era at Texas is off to a great start.

    Hudson Card, a redshirt freshman native of Austin, stepped up big in his debut as the Longhorns' new starting quarterback. Card went 14-of-21 with 224 yards and two touchdowns in Texas' 38-18 victory over No. 23 Louisiana. He added a rushing touchdown in the third quarter, too. 

    "Hudson is very elusive, a very good athlete," Sarkisian said, per Longhorns Country. "He throws extremely well on the run as well. I think previously where Hudson has gotten himself in trouble is he can drop his eyes some and start to look at the rush. That is something that we have tried to work on with him because we're trying to play to his strengths. I thought he did a nice job of that, keeping his vision, moving in the pocket, and making plays."

    Although Sarkisian did let backup QB Casey Thompson see some playing time in the fourth quarter, this offense is clearly Card's for this season. Texas will face the Arkansas Razorbacks in Week 2. 

    Grade: A