Penn State, UGA young guns give ray of hope for future

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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.

Kentucky QB Patrick Towles to transfer

Patrick Towles

Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles will transfer, he announced in an Instagram post Sunday afternoon.

Towles leaves school as Kentucky’s sixth-most prolific passer, completing 427-of-759 passes for 5,099 yards with 24 touchdowns and 24 interceptions.

Once compared to Ben Roethlisberger, Towles’ career peeked in a 2014 game with then-No. 1 Mississippi State, as he completed 24-of-43 passes for 390 yards with two touchdowns in a 45-31 loss to the Bulldogs.

But Kentucky stumbled down the stretch, starting 5-1 and finishing 5-7, and Towles stumbled through a 2015 campaign in which he threw nine touchdowns against 14 interceptions.

He’d been passed by freshman Drew Barker by the end of the season, and threw only four passes in a loss to Louisville on Saturday.

A junior, Towles will complete his political science degree in December and be eligible for immediate playing time at a new destination in 2016.

Penn State fires offensive coordinator John Donovan

Penn State football practice, Sept 9, 2015

Penn State has fired offensive coordinator John Donovan, the program announced Sunday.

“I have tremendous respect for John and the work he has put in the last five years,” head coach James Franklin said in a statement. “I wish him and his family nothing but the best in the future.”

Donovan originally hooked up with Franklin when the two were at Maryland, then coordinated his offenses at Vanderbilt and later Penn State.

Despite playing with what many project to be a future first-round pick in quarterback Christian Hackenberg, Penn State ranked 101st nationally in scoring, 108th in total offense and 80th in yards per play.

Penn State dropped its final three games of the regular season and averaged only 14.6 points in its five losses.

Purdue retains head coach Darrell Hazell, fires both coordinators

Markell Jones
AP Photo

It’s never a good thing when a head coach has to fire both of his coordinators on the same day. Of course, it’s never a good thing to be 6-30, either.

Both are realities at Purdue, as the Boilers announced Sunday head coach Darrell Hazell will return for a fourth season in 2016, but offensive coordinator John Shoop, defensive coordinator Greg Hudson and defensive line coach Rubin Carter will not.

“I appreciate the efforts of each of those guys over the last three years,” Hazell said in a statement. “They are quality men who are well respected by their players and their peers, and I am disappointed that things didn’t work out better. But I believe that in order to turn around this program, we need to make some significant changes and move in a different direction at those positions.”

Purdue, 2-10 in 2015, ranked 115th nationally in yards per play and 112th in yards per play allowed.

Virginia Tech announces Justin Fuente as head coach; Bud Foster to stay on as DC

Associated Press

Justin Fuente is officially Virginia Tech’s new head coach. A day after reports linked the two parties, the Hokies made the match official by announcing the 39-year-old as their new head coach on Sunday afternoon.

“Justin is a very impressive individual who also happens to be one of the brightest offensive minds in college football,” Virginia Tech AD Whit Babcock said in a statement. “He elevated Memphis to unprecedented heights. His recruiting philosophy is progressive and comprehensive. Coach Fuente has displayed tremendous talent in evaluating players and developing young men as they strive to reach their full potential. Simply put, Coach Fuente exudes all the qualities that Hokies hold near and dear. We are excited to officially welcome Justin Fuente as the leader of the Virginia Tech football program.”

Fuente went 26-23 in four years as Memphis’s head coach, but his success runs far beyond a simple won-loss record. After going 7-17 in his first two seasons, Fuente guided the Tigers to a 19-6 mark in 2014-15, which included a 15-game winning streak, a No. 13 national ranking and a win over rival Ole Miss within that run.

Simply put, it was the absolute peak of modern Memphis football.

And now Fuente is tasked with taking Virginia Tech to new heights. The Hokies dominated the ACC throughout much of the 2000’s, taking conference crowns in 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2010. But as Florida State and Clemson have risen, Virginia Tech has fallen.

After posting 13 top-25 finishes in 14 seasons, the Hokies are set to conclude their fourth straight campaign outside the national rankings, going just 16-16 in ACC play over that span.

The offensive numbers state exactly why Fuente was hired, and what he must do in Blacksburg; Memphis ranks seventh nationally in scoring offense and eighth in passing efficiency, while Virginia Tech sits at 64th and 59th, respectively.

The cupboard is not bare, though. Virginia Tech is in the midst of a 23-year bowl streak, and Fuente has already secured one key commitment — longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster has agreed to stay on staff.

“I’ve been privileged to work for a legendary coach who always did it the right way,” Foster said. “I enjoyed that chapter and the success we’ve had, however, I am equally excited for the next chapter and working for Justin. Justin and I share a vision for the future of our program. After spending time together, I’m convinced he’s the right person to continue building on the standard we’ve established at Virginia Tech. I’m truly looking forward to working with him and supporting him.”

Clearly, Babcock and the VT brass believe, a Fuente offense and a Foster defense are what the Hokies need to catch Clemson and Florida State.

Now it’s Fuente’s job to make that happen.