- Within this week’s college football mailbag: the rise of true freshman quarterbacks, the reason why only a few teams run the triple option and Florida’s decade-long search for a viable star under center.
Week 1 brought a flurry of quarterback and scheme questions into the mailbag. I’m not sure there are any definitive answers on the QB front, but it’s a fascinating topic…
From IKeyo: Is it just me or are more true freshman QBs breaking into the two-deep for Power 5 programs?
It is not just you. There are a few reasons for this. The current attitude of “I’m transferring if I don’t win the starting job by my second year on campus” among quarterbacks certainly has opened some opportunities for young players. But another factor is that quarterbacks are coming to college more ready to play because so many are polishing their craft year-round with seven-on-seven leagues and getting lessons from private quarterback coaches outside their high schools.
When redshirt freshman Nick Starkel got hurt Sunday against UCLA, Texas A&M turned to true freshman Kellen Mond. If not for transfers, either senior Kyle Allen or junior Kyler Murray would have been starting for the Aggies against the Bruins. But rather than compete with one another, Allen and Murray opted to leave Texas A&M after the ’15 season. Allen is now the starter at Houston, while Murray is backing up Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma.
The situation at Florida State is different because the older quarterbacks were asked to leave, but three years ago Jimbo Fisher would not have envisioned having to play a true freshman who had been on campus two months (James Blackman). He would have assumed he’d be playing De’Andre Johnson (who would be a redshirt sophomore or junior) or Malik Henry (who would be a redshirt freshman or sophomore). But Johnson was booted from the team for hitting a woman in a bar, and Henry left after one tumultuous season on campus.
What’s interesting is that the quarterbacks who shy away from competition probably are going to find themselves on the bench. The best ones don’t seem worried about who else is in the quarterback room. For example, Cam Newton signed with Florida in 2007 despite the fact that Tim Tebow was a rising sophomore who had helped the Gators win a national title the previous season and the higher-rated John Brantley was also a member of the '07 class. Jalen Hurts didn’t care who was on the roster at Alabama, and Tua Tagovailoa didn’t care that Jalen Hurts had performed well as a true freshman. Tagovailoa would have been Hurts’s backup this season even if Cooper Bateman and David Cornwell had stayed. The same goes for true freshman Jake Fromm, who will start for Georgia at Notre Dame on Saturday in place of injured sophomore Jacob Eason. I asked Kirby Smart on Monday if Fromm had expressed any depth chart concerns during his recruitment. Smart just chuckled. “I don’t think he ever cared,” Smart said. “He loved Georgia. The kid has loved Georgia since he was growing up and he has wanted to be a Georgia Bulldog all his life, so that is what he chose to do. It didn’t matter who was here. He is pretty confident in himself, and the best ones are.”
From Micah: Interesting: When teams face the prospect of starting a freshman in the offseason, the season’s outlook is suspect. If it happens in season? ‘They’ll be fine.’ #UGA #FSU [Answer linked here, and in the video below.]
From @errxn: If the triple option is so hard to defend, why don’t we see more teams running it?
Why don’t more teams run the kind of offense that allowed Georgia Tech to roll up 655 yards on Tennessee on Monday? There are a few reasons.
One of the biggest is that the triple option requires a lot of cut blocking, where a lineman or a back drops low to essentially provide a stumbling block for a defender. Coaches worry that if they have to practice running the option against their own defense, good defensive recruits won’t want to come out of fear that they’ll get cut every day at practice.
Another reason is that if everyone ran the option, it would become pretty easy to stop. Stopping the triple option is all about discipline. Someone must hit the dive* back, the quarterback and the pitch man on every play. Leave any one of these players untouched, and he can run all day. Why? The beauty of the option is that reading an unblocked defender creates a numbers advantage on the play side. Since the offense doesn’t have to block the guy being read, it can focus its resources on the rest of the potential tacklers. (Another way to look at it is the quarterback essentially “blocks” the guy getting read by forcing him to make a decision and then moving the ball away from him either by running it or pitching it.) But if all three options get hit, the play goes nowhere. And learning to hit all those players gets much easier with repetition. One of the advantages of the option now is its rarity. If defenses practiced against it every week, hitting the three potential ballcarriers would become rote. The only way the offense would work is if the line could dominate the defensive front. Since most teams running the option are doing it because they can’t recruit athletic 300-plus pounders—or because they’re at a military academy with a weight limit—that isn’t a likely outcome.
* A dive play is a quick handoff to the fullback. So the dive man in this case is the fullback. In Georgia Tech’s offense, he is called the B-back.
One other potential drawback is the option can be destroyed from the inside out by a physically dominant defensive line. Push a guard or the center into the backfield, and there is no dive. If there is no dive, everything else breaks down.
From Tracy: Why is it every Florida team can find a star QB—except for the Gators? I think even the Baylor defense could hold Florida to 14 points or less. [Answer linked here, and in the video at the top of this story]
From @HistoryOfMatt: With so many teams running spreads, will offensive trends look backwards to keep Ds off balance? Wishbone? Veer? Nebraska I Option?
This is an excellent complement to @errxn’s question, and the answer is they’ve been looking back all along. Urban Meyer’s offense mixes 1950s single-wing principles with the zone read concepts originally developed by Rich Rodriguez at Glenville (W. Va.) State. The Art Briles offense—currently run by Syracuse, South Florida, Tulsa and Florida Atlantic—combines a version of Bill Yeoman’s Houston Veer with ridiculously wide receiver splits that essentially force defenses to declare before the snap whether they’re going to have the safeties help cover the receivers or drop down in run support.
Meanwhile, the newest rage is the triple option out of the pistol formation. Bob Davie has had success with this at New Mexico, and now a lot of coaches want to copy it. It feels like a modernized version of what Tom Osborne did in the mid-90s at Nebraska. That offense, when run by quarterback Tommie Frazier, might have been my favorite one ever because it mixed the triple option with an I-formation-based play-action passing attack.