Spring Game Observations: QB Competitions at Notre Dame, Penn State, Cal & Washington State


Notre Dame’s annual Blue-Gold Game aired on NBC Sports Network, which is noteworthy for two reasons: the first is that since it was on cable, the FCC won’t be hammering the Peacock for the numerous audible F-bombs boom mics picked up.

Second, and more important, the nation got to witness the increasingly muddled quarterback picture that will define the Irish in the coming months.

Tommy Rees took over as clear-cut No. 1 from Dayne Crist in Game 2 of the 2011 campaign. However, turnovers, and particularly those in the red zone, threatened Rees’s standing for months. Andrew Hendrix proved the cliche that the most popular man in town is the back-up quarterback with his inspired play against Stanford, but Saturday’s spring game adds a new caveat to the competition.

Enter Everett Golson.

Redshirted a season ago, Golson was a highly regarded two-way quarterback recruit out of Myrtle Beach. His mobility out of the shotgun is not typical for a Notre Dame quarterback, but Brian Kelly’s spread offense has facilitated such snap takers in the past. Golson is reminiscent of Cincinnati’s Zach Collaros, and on Saturday really had the opportunity to exhibit that.

SlapTheSign.com has a thorough breakdown of the Blue-Gold Game, particularly statistical assessments of each of the four Irish QBs. Golson was easily the best, going 11-15 and was the sole passer to not throw an interception.

Hendrix looked to be in the driver’s seat initially, reading a blitz at the line to find a leaking Tyler Eifert for a touchdown. From there though, the presumed competitor to Rees struggled. That both Rees and Hendrix were spectacularly unspectacular while Golson flourished would seemingly make this a three-player race.

Yet, this could also prove a quintessential example of overemphasis on spring practices. It’s easy for those outside a program to make snap assessments based on the anecdotal evidence of a controlled scrimmage. Kelly let his QBs go live, which does make the Blue-Gold Game a more accurate indicator than most, but it is still a controlled environment.

There’s much to be said for the pressure of in-game experience, and to that end I would be surprised if Rees isn’t starting against Navy in Ireland come September. But if he struggles, Kelly’s chose for a replacement will be intriguing.

Penn State’s struggles at quarterback are well documented. QB play was a widely recognized reason for PSU not competing for the Big Ten championship, and the Nittany Lions’ Blue & White Game did nothing to dispel the notion.

Bill O’Brien has a proven track record for quarterbacks succeeding under his direction, and Victory Bell Rings wrote of PSU only scratching the surface of its playbook. Until Matt McGloin or Paul Jones proves capable of handling the basics, the Lion offense should remain vanilla.

And it would seem a Jones vs. McGloin competition. The two handled the Lions’ share (pun intended) of duties. Bolden struggled immediately. His inconsistency in two off-and-on years as a starter makes his initial Blue & White appearance all the more troubling. Returning a talented back in Silas Redd and boasting serious defensive chops, 2012 could be another season that QB play is the determining factor between a good season, and potentially great one.

Like O’Brien, Mike Leach has a track record with quarterbacks but entered into a much more favorable position. Washington State’s Jeff Tuel certainly seemed suited to Leach’s spread offense, completing his first 15 pass attempts in the Cougars’ spring game. All Coug’d Up broke down the game, played in Spokane while Martin Stadium undergoes renovations. Among the assessments out of eastern Washington was that Tuel was throwing to a loaded receiving corps.

Leach’s offense and the talent at his disposal makes WSU an interesting dark horse in the Pac-12. In analyzing Pac-12 spring football at AZDesertSwarm.com, yours truly addressed the depth Leach has at quarterback. If Connor Halliday returns from his lacerated liver strong, the quarterback competition might go to August.

Cal seeks to make its own surprise run at the Pac-12 North, and Saturday might instill some hope that Zach Maynard is ready. The Buffalo transfer struggled at times in 2011, completing well fewer than 60 percent of his pass attempts. His half-brother Keenan Allen is among the best wideouts in a conference deep with them, and the two-pronged rushing attack of Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson made Maynard feel like the weak link.

He made moves to shake that, going 6-10 for 109 yards without favorite target Allen in the lineup. Ballyhooed freshman Zach Kline played well late, and could emerge as the No. 2 over Allan Bridgford. However, Maynard is key. If he establishes himself as a consistent passers immediately, reserves won’t matter and the Bears will suddenly be something they have not been in several years: a multifaceted, dangerous offense.