Overall QB play in ACC must get better

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
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Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd has not disappointed. Neither has Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston -- at least for one game, anyway.

Even Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown has impressed in his return from a major knee injury.

The rest of the quarterbacks in the ACC? Well, their performances have not exactly risen to elite levels. Not yet, anyway.

[+] EnlargeStephen Morris
AP Photo/J Pat CarterStephen Morris is completing only 52 percent of his passes thus far.
You figured there could be some early struggles at the position, with seven teams featuring new starters. Two of those teams -- Duke and NC State -- are already playing backups after their starters got hurt. Still, several quarterbacks expected to be among the best in the league have struggled so far, too.

The latest QBR stats show the ACC has more quarterbacks underperforming than the other power conferences.

Six ACC quarterbacks rank in the bottom 38 in QBR, which measures the way a signal caller plays by taking into account his stats combined with game situations. That ranks last among the Big 12 (two), Pac-12 (two), Big Ten (three) and SEC (two). In addition, six ACC quarterbacks have thrown more interceptions than touchdowns so far this season.

Part of the reason for some of the early struggles can be attributed to the schedule. Three players went against top-10 defenses -- Miami quarterback Stephen Morris against Florida; Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas against Alabama; and Syracuse quarterback Drew Allen against Penn State. In addition, Virginia quarterback David Watford faced BYU and Oregon, while Pitt quarterback Tom Savage went against Florida State, a top-10 defense a year ago.

Each quarterback ranks in the bottom 38 in QBR. Morris (No. 100) and Thomas (No. 132) stand out the most in that group. Morris in particular has not been as crisp as he was when he ended the last four games of 2012 with 11 touchdown passes, zero interceptions and 1,131 passing yards.

Going into the year, Morris drew raves as a potential first-round pick thanks to his arm strength and football savvy. Many pegged him as the second-best quarterback in the league behind Boyd. So far in two games, Morris is completing only 52 percent -- down from the 58 percent he posted in 2012. He also has three touchdown passes to two interceptions and has thrown for a total of 322 yards.

Miami coach Al Golden says Morris' performance has been a function of both games the Hurricanes have played. In the opener against FAU, their ground game had more than 300 yards. Last week in a win over Florida, the entire Miami offense struggled against one of the best defenses it will face this year. Still, there were several miscommunications in the pass game, in particular between Morris and Phillip Dorsett.

"There's a lot of things we have to fix, but Stephen's not on a different page or anything like that," Golden said. "We're anxious to get in here this week and work. I know he is. We're just going to get better and move forward."

Thomas' struggles have continued, despite a new coordinator and new offensive scheme. He has one touchdown pass to three interceptions and is not even ranked among the top 10 players in passing efficiency in the latest ACC statistics. His completion percentage is down around 39 percent. Not all the problems fall on Thomas' shoulders. His receivers have not helped him out, and the run game remains inconsistent.

But given his talent and starting experience, Thomas should not rank last among all ACC quarterbacks in QBR. Many expected improvement this year after a down 2012. The tangible results have not been there for him just yet.

One other returning veteran has not been completely on point, either. North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner, also rated right behind Boyd among returning starters, ranks No. 66 in QBR and is at No. 7 in passing efficiency in the ACC. He has not been terrible; but he has not been outstanding, either.

"Bryn is playing well," coach Larry Fedora said. "The pieces of the puzzle around Bryn are a little different this year. We still have to come together as an offense. I don't think we're hitting on all cylinders yet. We have to become more effective running the football to take some of that pressure off Bryn so he can be who he can be."

Among the first-year starters, Allen has probably struggled more than anyone. He has one touchdown pass to six interceptions -- including four last week in a loss to Northwestern. Coach Scott Shafer says he will play Allen and backup Terrel Hunt against Wagner on Saturday.

"It's been frustrating going through growing pains but at the same time I think they continue to attack practice every day and continue to get better and we've just got to eliminate the major mistakes and I think we can have one or maybe two great players," Syracuse quarterbacks coach Tim Lester said.

Boyd and Winston have lived up to the early hype. Brown has been terrific, ranking No. 3 in the nation in QBR to lead all ACC quarterbacks.

But there's no doubt this is a position that must see improvement across the league as the year goes on.

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