WASHINGTON — Twenty-first century college football is a quarterback’s game. While great runningbacks will dazzle and occasionally win the Heisman Trophy, they’re a dime-a-dozen in an era where the air attack reigns supreme.
Where once having a great quarterback was the cherry on top of a team’s sundae, not having a competent one in 2016 is the equivalent of melted ice cream.
Look no further than the four area FBS schools. Virginia and Virginia Tech started transfers at the position this fall: Jerod Evans (64 percent completions and 24 touchdowns to 5 interceptions) is a major reason Justin Fuente’s first season in Blacksburg has been bountiful; while Kurt Benkert’s fade against ACC foes (7 TD and 5 INT in his last five games) sealed another struggling season in Charlottesville.
Meanwhile, Maryland and Navy both had senior signalcallers go down with injury this fall; and while Will Worth was able to pick up the slack when Tago Smith tore his ACL (1259 yards passing and 1074 yards rushing with 29 total touchdowns for the former backup), the Terps backups haven’t been able to sustain Perry Hills’ early-season success. Not Tyrrell Pigrome, not Caleb Rowe and not Max Bortenschlager, who may have a career pending as a villain’s henchman in the next James Bond film. The success of DJ Durkin at Maryland and Bronco Mendenhall at Virginia will hinge on many factors, but one is certainly going to be finding the right quarterback for 2017.
FCS Update — Congratulations to James Madison and Richmond both playoff bound. The Dukes (10-1, 8-0 CAA) earned a first-round bye and will play the winner of Lehigh and New Hampshire. Richmond (8-3, 5-3 CAA) despite a season-ending loss to William & Mary will entertain North Carolina A & T Saturday. Incidentally, the “Competent Quarterback Corollary” trickles down to FCS as the Dukes’ Bryan Schor and the Spiders’ Kyle Lauletta ranked 1-2 in their conference in passing efficiency.
Maryland (5-6, 2-6 Big Ten) concluded its November Nightmare with a 28-7 loss at Nebraska. When first glancing at the 2016 schedule, one saw the distinct possibility of needing a win over Rutgers to become bowl-eligible. And while the way they’ve arrived (one thought they would lose to Michigan State while beating Minnesota or Indiana), that’s exactly where the Terps are.
- Terrapin triumphs: Sophomore DJ Moore caught 6 passes for 124 yards and the team’s lone touchdown. Linebacker Shane Cockerille tallied 11 tackles and 2 sacks. Wade Lees averaged over 40 yards per punt, and his leg hasn’t fallen off after punting 16 times the last two weeks.
- Terrapin troubles: The offensive line allowed five sack; and even with that yardage accounted for, the running game was held to 46 yards on 20 carries. The defense allowed three touchdowns and a missed field goal on Nebraska’s four first-half possessions, putting the offense into a must-pass position with a freshman QB.
Next: Noon Saturday vs. Rutgers (2-9, 0-8)
Virginia Tech (8-3, 5-2 ACC) rallied in the fourth quarter to win 34-31 at Notre Dame. While not factoring in the Coastal Division race (they still need a win over Virginia or a North Carolina loss to NC State), the victory purges a little of the pain from the previous week’s stumbling loss to Georgia Tech.
- Hokie highlights: Jerod Evans continues to be Exhibit A in the finding-the-right-QB-to-run-your-offense” mandate, this week throwing for two touchdowns while running for a third. The defense held Notre Dame to 4-14 on third down, as Andrew Motuapuaka led the way with 11 tackles. Joey Slye booted a pair of clutch field goals in the fourth quarter on the road.
- Hokie humblings: Another sluggish start had Virginia down three possessions in the first half. The defense did allow 200 yards rushing and failed to force a turnover. And beating Notre Dame in South Bend is no way to convince the Fighting Irish to ever joining the ACC as a football member.
Next: Noon Saturday vs. Virginia (2-9, 1-6)
Virginia (2-9, 1-6 ACC) for the fourth straight week saw a lead in the first half dissolve into another defeat, this time a 31-17 loss at Georgia Tech.
Matt Johns played the role of the ghost of quarterbacks past, and the season mercifully will end Thanksgiving weekend. To quote Tiny Tim, “God bless us, everyone!”
- Cavalier congrats: Taquan Mizzell, you deserved better during your stay in Charlottesville. The senior rushed for 131 yards and caught six passes. Junior Doni Dowling grabbed a career-high nine receptions. The defense held the Yellow Jackets to 2-10 on third down.
- Cavalier concerns: Matt Johns threw three interceptions, including a fourth-quarter dagger that was returned for a touchdown. Backbreaking plays killed the defense, as Georgia Tech’s offensive touchdowns came on runs of 60 and 67 yards, as well as a 54-yard pass. Sam Hayward missed two of three field goal attempts.
Next: Noon Saturday at Virginia Tech (8-3, 5-2)
Navy (8-2, 6-1 AAC) clinched the West Division title with a 66-31 thumping of East Carolina. They will face either South Florida or Temple Dec. 3 for the conference title; the Owls own the tiebreaker with the Bulls.
- Midshipman medals: Will Worth proved his again, rushing for 159 yards and four touchdowns. The team tallied 480 yards on the ground. Justin Norton led the defense with eight tackles.
- Midshipman miscues: The defense did allow 30 plus points for the fourth time in their last six games. There’s no chance that will come back to haunt coach Ken Niumatalolo in the conference championship game or against Army right?
Next: 3:30 p.m. Saturday at SMU (5-6, 3-4)
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