Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee can look to one team when envisioning best-case scenarios for their questionable quarterback contingency situations: Mississippi State.
Dak Prescott took over for the Bulldogs during the season opener when QB1 Tyler Russell suffered a concussion. The sophomore has started the three subsequent games and has played well in Russell’s stead.
Credit can be shared between Prescott and coach Dan Mullen, who has essentially reshaped the offense to fit his substitute quarterback’s strengths.
State has gone 2-1 since Prescott assumed the starting role and was one prevent defense stand away from beating Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Prescott has added a powerful running element to the Bulldogs attack. His downhill running has led to a 6.6 yards per carry average, though Mullen has limited his quarterback’s carries against lesser opponents. When Mullen asked Prescott to carry the load against Auburn, he responded with 133 yards and 2 TDs on 22 attempts.
However, Prescott hasn’t been as strong as Russell was expected to be in the passing game. He has completed just 58 percent of his passes as a starter. Still, Prescott has avoided the big turnovers. His lone interception came after he subbed into the Oklahoma State game.
Arkansas’ might be the direst. To become bowl eligible, the Razorbacks must go 3-5 in the SEC. They open conference play this week with one of their four home games – against Texas A&M.
QB1 Brandon Allen remains doubtful with an injury to his throwing shoulder. He missed the Rutgers game last week – a game in which the Scarlet Knights dared Arkansas QB2 AJ Derby to beat them. Ultimately, the Iowa transfer (doesn’t that tell you everything you need to know?) could not.
Allen seems unlikely to play. Early week reports had him practicing handoffs. Granted, at times toss plays have been “long passes” for Arkansas this season, but if Allen can’t throw he will be relegated to the sidelines again.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema could potentially pull the redshirt off freshman QB Austin Allen, Brandon’s younger brother, to give the team another option. The younger Allen will serve as QB2 if Brandon Allen, as expected, cannot go.
For the Razorbacks to have any prayer against Texas A&M this week, Bielema’s offensive coordinator, Jim Chaney, must do a better job of putting Derby into simple situations. The Aggies would be well-advised to adopt the same strategy utilized last week by Rutgers – make Derby beat us – and should therefore sell out against the run in early downs.
Derby must get into a rhythm and connect on early-down passes to force A&M to respect him. If he can’t, this one will get ugly quickly.
Derby doesn’t have the same talent Prescott possesses, meaning Chaney’s job becomes more difficult – though he needs look only within his own division to draw inspiration.
QB1 Jeff Driskel will miss the remainder of the season with a leg injury, forcing QB2 Tyler Murphy into action. Murphy played competently in a win over Tennessee. He threw for one TD – though most of the credit goes to WR Solomon Patton for taking a screen pass 53 yards for the score – and rushed for another.
The Gators still possess a dominant defense, even if concerns about DT Dominique Easley suffering a season-ending knee injury in practice turn out to be founded. Offensively, though, Florida has been stagnant.
Murphy, like Driskel, is a dual-threat quarterback. The former Temple commit – ominous sign? – will be called upon to win games this season. Whether that’s the case this week in Lexington remains to be seen. For the most part, Murphy needs to avoid turnovers and do just enough offensively to escape with wins.
The good news is Murphy’s similar skill set to Driskel means Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease won’t have to completely overhaul his playbook to best suit the fourth-year junior.
Kentucky and Tennessee have been more abject disasters at quarterback this season.
The Wildcats have yet to actually choose a quarterback this season. Sure, they went with Jalen Whitlow in the opener. But they just as quickly switched to Maxwell Smith when things went awry against Western Kentucky.
The two signal-callers have switched back and forth to less-than-desirable results since.
Kentucky has shown this season that its defense hasn’t advanced enough to win games on that side of the ball, meaning quarterback play must be a big factor in any turnaround. Whitlow and Smith provide different elements – Smith is a drop-back passer and Whitlow’s athletic ability and flair make him more of a dual-threat.
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown and/or first-year coach Mark Stoops seemingly need to select one and design the offense around him. The Wildcats had a week off between their loss to Louisville and this week’s showdown with Florida. Has the offensive strategy shifted?
Worley didn’t play nearly as well in a 59-14 loss at Oregon, leading Jones to turn to QB2 Nathan Peterman. However, Peterman turned in a disastrous performance in his first start which, unfairly, came at Florida. He completed just 4 of 11 passes for 5 yards and 2 INTs. He also lost a fumble before suffering a hand injury that will keep him out for several weeks.
Worley fared only slightly better in relief, completing 10 of 23 passes for 149 yards and a TD. The Gators also intercepted two passes against him.
Jones’ quick trigger on Worley combined with the presence of heralded QB recruits Riley Ferguson and Josh Dobbs have led to speculation that Jones might burn a redshirt – and soon.
The Volunteers face South Alabama this week, meaning they should be able to sleepwalk to an easy win. One of the freshmen could see time once if the game gets out of hand.
Don’t be surprised if a freshman – most likely Ferguson – gets the call to start if the season starts to spiral out of control. The next three SEC games come against divisional foes Georgia and South Carolina and at top-ranked Alabama.
The offense Jones prefers is flexible. He has shown the ability to adapt to pocket passers and dynamic runners alike. So he should be able to switch gears from one type of quarterback to another seamlessly – just as State has been able to do.
Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky and Arkansas can only hope to get production similar to what Mississippi State has received from Prescott.