COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- On the first play of Texas A&M’s 73-3 win over Lamar, offensive coordinator Jake Spavital dialed up a deep pass play for his sophomore quarterback, Kenny Hill.
In the second quarter, when true freshman Kyle Allen entered the game for his collegiate debut, Spavital did the same.
The intentions were the same in both instances, even if the results were different: Hill underthrew the pass but connected with Speedy Noil for a 44-yard gain; Allen overthrew his attempt, intended for Jeremy Tabuyo, and it fell incomplete.
But it was a growth opportunity for both quarterbacks, who battled tooth-and-nail in the offseason for the starting job that Hill won but Allen continues to nip at his heels for.
“It's fun,” Spavital said. “You look at the quarterbacks in that room and say 'Hey, we're going deep the first play of the game.' It kind of brings some excitement in there and know that we're still going to be out there attacking and we're trying to score as many points as we possibly can.”
Hill, who became an overnight star after his record-breaking debut against South Carolina, played well for his second time out. The sophomore from Southlake (Texas) Carroll turned in a solid performance Saturday: 17-of-26 passing, 283 yards and four touchdowns in roughly two quarters of work.
He remains the starter now and for the foreseeable future (coach Kevin Sumlin isn’t the type to rotate quarterbacks) but even though he smashed some of Johnny Manziel’s records in his first start, that doesn’t mean that he can’t improve.
“I thought he was not as accurate with those intermediate-to-deep balls as what he should be, but going into that game, I wanted to kind of break some tendencies and kind of take some shots downfield with it,” Spavital said. “We ended up taking a lot and I thought he did all right with it … It'll change up the rhythm of your offense and I just kind of wanted to see how he'd handle adversity but he'd throw an incompletion and come back and answer with it pretty cleanly [with a completion]. But I definitely think taking shots downfield we need to get some more work on.”
While Hill works on improving his deep ball, Allen must work on decision-making. His first collegiate drive ended in an interception after he scrambled away from pressure and forced a ball into traffic. Still, he finished 12-of-16 passing for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
“We went out that first drive and he executed it pretty cleanly until that third-down-and-2 call,” Spavital said. “We did a play-action pass and he got caught in a bad situation and he just needs to be a little bit smarter with the ball and just chalk up his loss and throw it away. But after that I thought he came out and consistently ran the offense pretty well.”
Sumlin noted that even though the two had a heated competition in camp, the two remain close. He cited Hill’s eagerness to greet Allen after the true freshman threw his first touchdown pass and Allen showing genuine happiness for Hill when he succeeded. Teammates echoed that sentiment, as did Hill.
“We've been cool since the day he walked in here,” Hill said of Allen. “He's a great kid. I love him. You want to see your teammates do well. When he threw that first touchdown pass, I think I was just as happy as he was.”
It’s something Sumlin is happy to see: two talented quarterbacks making each other better and sharing in each other’s success.
“That's genuine,” Sumlin said. “In a situation that we're in, I think that says a lot about the competition, I think it says a lot about the respect for each other's ability and that's why I said they both deserved to play and they're comfortable. Kenny's probably a little more comfortable because he has played more. Kyle got better as the game went on.”