There are 3 key quarterback questions worth asking for each of the SEC's 3 spring games on Saturday
They say 3 is an unlucky number. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Today, it probably won’t be lucky or unlucky.
Fortunately for us, we’ve got the kickoff of SEC spring games — excluding Mizzou doing that a month ago — beginning on Saturday with 3 teams. Kentucky (1 p.m. ET), Auburn (2 p.m. ET) and Texas A&M (2 p.m. ET) are all in action.
All of them, I’d argue, have reason to be intrigued by the quarterback situation. Two have true battles (Auburn and A&M) while 1 has an established QB1 (Kentucky).
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Nonetheless, all of them have several questions worth asking that we should get answers to this weekend. Here the 3 I have for each QB room playing in a spring game on Saturday:
1. Does Will Levis look comfortable working with new OC Rich Scangarello?
My guess is that we won’t see a ton of Levis during Saturday’s scrimmage. The last thing Mark Stoops wants is his established QB1 to get hurt because he can’t dial it back for a spring game. Having said that, my guess is still that Levis will get reps because he’s trying to get on the same page as Scangarello, who has only been on the job for a month.
Kentucky will still have another week of practices as a result of Scangarello’s late arrival, so it’s worth noting that even though Levis is established in the general scheme after starting every game in Liam Coen’s offense in 2021, there could still be a learning curve with some of the terminology. Levis looking like a star would be a nice way to head into summer.
2. Does Beau Allen look starter-level?
At this time last year, Allen was getting billed as the potential starter. Then Levis came in and changed the Kentucky quarterback room. Allen is a hometown kid who is trying to fend off Iowa transfer Deuce Hogan for the backup role. Entering his third offensive scheme in as many years, Allen is still likely going to be in a reserve role, but given the way that Levis takes on contact as a runner, his development is key.
We really haven’t seen a ton of Allen yet. Kentucky didn’t have a spring game the last 2 years, and Allen only played 33 snaps in garbage time in 2021. We know that Allen beat out Gatewood for the No. 2 spot last year. An impressive spring showing would probably calm some nerves about the depth behind Levis.
3. What can we expect from Deuce Hogan?
The aforementioned Iowa transfer actually walked on at Kentucky. I’d like to think he literally just walked to the opposite sideline at the end of the Citrus Bowl and asked the Kentucky coaching staff if he could come to Lexington. Whatever the case, Hogan was buried on the depth chart (much to some Iowa fans’ frustration) and saw just 4 snaps in 2021. He has just 1 pass attempt at the FBS level. Expectations should be that he’s No. 3 on the depth chart.
The good news for Kentucky is that Hogan’s presence is as low risk as it gets. He’s already got 2 years at a respected Power 5 strength program, and he has 4 years of eligibility remaining. Even if he looks like he’s learning the ropes of Scangarello’s offense, he could still help give Kentucky enough depth so that it doesn’t change the playbook to a more conservative approach with Levis.
1. What does a healthy TJ Finley look like in this new offense?
Finley has a prime opportunity to impress on Saturday. Texas A&M transfer Zach Calzada has been limited with a shoulder injury, and Finley has gotten the most reps. That’s a fortunate development for Finley, who has to be eager to show that he’s no longer hobbled by the ankle injury that impacted him down the stretch in 2021. Now healthy, one would think that Finley should be the best version of himself.
Then again, he’s trying to learn from yet another new offensive coordinator. Of course, Eric Kiesau was at least an in-house promotion after he served as Auburn’s passing game coordinator. It’s not like Finley is starting by having to learn a brand new offense from Mike Bobo over Zoom like when he transferred to Auburn. Finley doesn’t usually handle pressure in the pocket particularly well, so in a controlled scrimmage, I’d say take it with a grain of salt. Still, it would probably make Auburn fans breathe a slight sigh of relief to see him slinging it.
2. Does Holden Geriner pull a 2019 Bo Nix?
The Auburn coaching staff really likes Geriner. Maybe that’s because he’s the lone scholarship quarterback in the room who started his career at Auburn following the transfer of Dematrius Davis. What Geriner has working in his favor is that Bryan Harsin could approach 2022 like he’s coaching for his job. Meaning, he’s not worried about seniority or perhaps risking someone transferring because of where they stand on the depth chart because Finley, Calzada and Robby Ashford all transferred as undergraduates.
Does that mean we’ll see Geriner look impressive as a true freshman like Nix did en route to becoming the opening day starter? The odds probably aren’t great, but even with a different coaching staff on The Plains, they at least should exist.
3. How much of a project is Robby Ashford?
The Oregon transfer came back to his home state of Alabama to put baseball on the back burner and focus on football. That means getting a full spring trying to learn the Auburn offense and to carve out an established role. Ashford has yet to take a college snap, which means he’s got 4 years of eligibility left. That’s the silver lining if he doesn’t look polished from the jump.
Like Finley, Ashford could also stand to benefit from Calzada working through that shoulder injury. It sounds like Ashford has been second with the amount of first-team reps for the Auburn quarterbacks. It wasn’t that long ago that Ashford was a 4-star quarterback out of Hoover. With his focus locked into football and learning the offense, perhaps it’s Ashford who could emerge as the dark-horse candidate to win the starting job.
Either way, I’d be surprised if we got any clarity at all on the hierarchy in Auburn’s quarterback room in the first year of the post-Bo Nix era.
1. Does Haynes King have his full mobility back?
I ask that question knowing that spring games aren’t usually the best way to tell if a dual-threat quarterback is ready to become a star, though Ainias Smith did say that King already showed that top end speed of 21 MPH during a practice when he first came back. That’s why it felt pretty even last year with King and Calzada in the spring game, even though it was King who was clearly the QB1 by opening day. King, coming off that broken leg he suffered against Colorado last year, needs his wheels to maximize his ability. That’s reality.
What’s also reality is that King is trying to fend off LSU transfer Max Johnson, who isn’t the athlete King is, but might be a bit more decisive as a runner than Calzada was. That could make King’s road back to the starting job a bit more challenging.
Fisher won’t tip his hand as to which way he’s leaning with King vs. Johnson (the expectation is that Conner Weigman will take a redshirt). In all likelihood, Fisher will be plenty complimentary of his signal-callers. By day’s end, he’ll make everyone believe that any one of those 3 options can become A&M’s opening day starter.
2. Does Max Johnson fully grasp the Jimbo Fisher offense?
So far, so good. That’s been the word out of camp in College Station. Johnson ran a much different offense at LSU than the one he’ll be asked to run with Fisher. We should see him use his legs more, and he’ll be tasked with more pre-snap reads. We also know that Johnson won’t have the benefit of throwing to a guy like Kayshon Boutte anymore.
Still, it’ll be interesting to see Johnson away from LSU, where he was productive but also seemed somewhat limited playing in an offense that had zero balance. Fisher’s offense will be balanced. That we know. It should have more help on the offensive line, too. We’ve seen Johnson excel stepping into throws when he’s got time to make them. We should see how he stacks up against King and whether it’s clear which guy has had roughly 1.5 season of SEC reps and which guy hasn’t. Or alternatively, maybe we’ll see 1 guy who is entering Year 3 in Fisher’s offense compared to another guy entering Year 1 in it.
3. Is the Conner Weigman hype train going to accelerate or decelerate?
It’s hard to imagine it slowing down. Weigman is Fisher’s highest-rated quarterback recruit signee since Jameis Winston. Dare I say, Weigman is entering with even more buildup than the former Heisman Trophy winner. The 5-star early enrollee should get a chance to sling it plenty. Of course, we should probably temper expectations with any true freshmen quarterbacks in Fisher’s complicated, demanding offense.
If Weigman starts throwing darts, though, look out. A&M fans will be buzzing, and rightfully so. The Aggies haven’t had an All-SEC quarterback in the post-Johnny Manziel era. That’s not to discredit the accomplishments of Kellen Mond, who was a good college quarterback. But seeing someone who can make throws like Weigman on a consistent basis could be what changes the trajectory of the program.
The only thing that would slow the Weigman hype train, which has already left the station, would be a brutal showing with freshman mistakes galore on Saturday. Given the buzz about him already, I wouldn’t bank on that.