Did Hockman's Performance Create a QB Controversy?

Kenton Gibbs

Early in the offseason process this year, and we're talking pre COVID-19 early, NC State football coach Dave Doeren gladly and unequivocally announced that Devin Leary would be the Wolfpack's QB1. 

Fast forward through the potential cancellation of the season, individual players having to quarantine and games being postponements, and voila, Bailey Hockman is publicly announced as the starter less than two hours before Saturday's season opener against Wake Forest.

This happened because of contact of tracing protocols that forced Leary to be in quarantine for 20 days during the middle of preseason practice. 

College and pro training camps rarely last longer than 21-25 days. So in essence, he missed a majority of camp snaps. 

Although he was healthy, in uniform and available to play if needed Saturday, Doeren said in his postgame press conference that Leary "had some rust and really was just kind of a victim of circumstance, to be honest.

"We tried to get him back for the game," Doeren said after State's 45-42 win. "He’s practicing, getting better, but 20 days, however many practices that was, (we) just didn’t feel like he was sharp enough and we weren’t putting him in the best place to be out there as the starter. Hopefully we’ll get him back into where he needs to be, because he was having a good camp prior to that. I feel bad for him."

This move shook State fans on social media as many immediately were dejected by the news. 

Maybe unfairly so.

Hockman said he was told he'd be starting about a week before Saturday's game, giving him plenty of of time to improve and mesh with the young but deep core of pass receivers the Wolfpack has to offer. 

The mobile left-hander displayed that improvement and the layered talent of his offense by completing his first 12 passes and spreading the ball around to nine different targets throughout the night while helping his team break a six-game losing streak dating back to last October.

He also led State to touchdowns on each of its first three drives, the first time that's happened since a win against Furman in 2017.

With the Wolfpack coming away with the win, it would seem all but settled that we’ve got a quarterback competition on our hands, right? 

In the words of college football legend Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friend.”

Hockman entered Saturday's game as a uniquely talented dual threat quarterback with a less than stellar decision-making record. He had four interceptions compared to just one touchdown pass in limited action last year.

He appeared to have made improvements in that area until the midway through the third quarter, when with state ahead 35-21 and looking to close the door on the Deacons, Hockman threw an ill-advised pass to a receiver running a curl route. Wake's Wake’s Ja’Sir Taylor anticipated the play, jumped the route and 45 yards for a a pick six and that created massive momentum swing.

The Deacons followed Taylor's touchdown with a quick three-and-out and an offensive score that tied the game.

From that point on, Hockman attempted only four more passes, neither of them downfield as the running game brought the Wolfpack home. Both Ricky Person Jr. and Zonovan Knight averaged better than seven yards per carry and finished with more than 95 yards.

So what does it all mean for the quarterback position moving forward?

Hockman played well, going 16 for 23 with 191 yards and a touchdown, but there were flaws.  

If Doeren felt comfortable naming Leary as the definitive starter before the process of preparing for the season ever began, then Hockman's serviceable performance against the Deacons doesn't figure to be enough to change things.

The Wolfpack coach wasn't ready to tip his hand on next week's starter at Virginia Tech when asked about it after the game.

"I'm going to enjoy the win tonight and you guys (in the media) can talk about that one," he said.

As for Hockman, he's not ready to concede anything.

"It’s a competition at the end of the day," he said. "I’m just happy to be the guy for this team. I love these guys and they know I’d do anything for them. ... In my mind I was the starter since day one."

Kenton's take: While Hockman played a good game it wasn’t all good. Also the mantra that you can’t lose your spot to injury is a lie at about every position on the team except quarterback. 

If Doeren felt comfortable naming Leary as the definitive starter before the process of a season had even gotten into full swing then what about Hockman’s perfectly decent 16 of 23 for 191 yards and one TD would change that. 

When teams run the ball as effectively as the Wolfpack did against the Deacons, all the quarterback has to do is not lose the game and Hockman accomplished that. But in order to uproot Leary from the mantles of QB1 fulltime he had to be dominant and he flatly wasn’t. 

Expect to see Leary trot out with the ones in Blacksburg, Va. next Saturday night.

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