Coming into the season, John Brantley replacing Tim Tebow at Florida was the overriding storyline when it came to quarterbacks who would be starting full-time for the first time in their collegiate careers in 2010.
Brantley’s debut Saturday afternoon was, shall we say, less than stellar. Another pair of first-time starters, however, showed against admittedly inferior competition that fans can be comfortable in the knowledge that there’s quality upside at the position.
Both Penn State’s Robert Bolden and Georgia’s Aaron Murray were on center stage this afternoon, the former as a true freshman and the latter as a redshirt freshman. And both, statistically speaking, were outstanding.
In Bolden’s case, it’s one of the more amazing stories of the young season. The true freshman was unable to enroll early and thus didn’t participate in spring practice this year, instead arriving in the summer after his competition for the job got what was thought to be a significant leg up the previous six months. That was strike one. Strike two was the fact that Joe Paterno had never in his 44 previous years in Happy Valley started a true freshman at quarterback in the opener.
Instead of looking and taking a called strike three, Bolden took his rips at the plate and eventually went yard in summer camp, drawing raves for his outstanding preseason performance and, against many long odds, officially beating out three other challengers for the job earlier this week. And in his first start, Bolden showed exactly why the Penn State coaching staff had no other choice but to put a college quarterbacking virgin under center.
In PSU’s 44-14 win over Div. 1-AA Youngstown State, Bolden was 21-of-29 for 239 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. In the portions of the game I was able to catch, the only thing more impressive than the freshman’s cannon for an arm was decision-making ability that belied his youthfulness. As I wrote on Twitter (follow us, while we’re here), the kid just looks like a quarterback and a future star at the position.
Oh, and Bolden accomplished all of this while playing in the shadow of the graduated Darryl Clark, one of the most underrated college QBs of the last decade.
While not nearly the “rags-to-riches” story that was Bolden, Murray was impressive in his own right given where he’d come from. Redshirted last season, Murray entered spring practice in a three-way battle for the starting job. Exiting spring, and following the dismissal of one of the challengers, Murray had a stranglehold on the job.
At least for one day, Murray repaid that confidence.
On their way to an easy win over Louisiana-Lafayette — UGA was up 55-7 with less than seven minutes left as this is being written — Murray completed 17-of-26 passes for 194 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Additionally, Murray rushed for 42 yards and a touchdown in roughly three quarters of work before giving way to Hutson Mason.
As for Brantley, well, he didn’t get inured by one of Mike Pouncey‘s wayward shotgun “snaps”. That’s one of the more positive things you could say about that debut. Bogged down by that head-scratching issue, as well as drops and a general offensive malaise for most of the game, Brantley’s stats were very pedestrian: 17-of-25, 114 yards and two touchdowns in the closer-than-it-looked 34-12 win over Miami of Ohio.
There’s little doubt Brantley possesses nearly every physical tool you want in a college QB. Now, it’s just a matter of working out the kinks and synching up an offense that’s spent the past three years leaning heavily on the departed Tebow. At least, that’s what head coach Urban Meyer & Company are banking on.
Again, it was just the first of many, many games for these three players. Much like you shouldn’t put too much stock in the “greatness” of Bolden and Murray considering their level of competition, one shouldn’t look for a roof from which to cannonball off of if you’re part of Gator Nation.
All three players hold tremendous promise. It’s just after one game, the hope is shining a little bit brighter for two of ‘em.