Quarterbacks: There are a lot of them! Each week, QB Curve will keep you up to speed on the game’s most important position by putting a different SEC signal-caller in the spotlight and putting the rest of the field in perspective. Previously: Tua Tagovailoa vs. Jalen Hurts … Jake Bentley … Jordan Ta’amu … Drew Lock … Jarrett Guarantano … Joe Burrow … Jarrett Stidham … Jake Fromm … Terry Wilson
QB of the Week: Kellen Mond
Typcasting: The Project
In another, more predictable timeline, Mond would have spent his first year at Texas A&M as a bystander, redshirting, and his second as a backup, biding his time behind a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate before taking the reins in Year 3. In the one we’re actually living, he was tossed straight into the deep end. The mass exodus of blue-chip quarterbacks prior to Mond’s arrival left A&M with little choice but to elevate him as a true freshman, with regrettable results: His first game was the Aggies’ historic collapse at UCLA, foreshadowing for a turbulent season that ended with Mond on the bench and his head coach on the chopping block.
For the most part, Year 2 has gone considerably better. Jimbo Fisher has brought long-term stability to the program, and has helped mold the sophomore Mond into a more mature, reliable starter who has accounted for a larger share of his team’s total offense this season (70 percent) than any other SEC starter. At times he has looked like the most improved quarterback in college football:
Through seven games, A&M stood at 5-2 — its only losses coming at the hands of No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson — and ranked 16th in the AP poll, after opening the season unranked. But the midseason momentum also relied on a string of narrow wins over Arkansas (by seven points), Kentucky (by six, in overtime), and South Carolina (by three) in which the Aggies topped out at 26 points. The past two weeks, the pendulum has swung back hard in back-to-back road losses at Mississippi State and Auburn, evoking the annual November fade that defined Kevin Sumlin’s tenure.
On paper, the setbacks in Starkville and Auburn coincided with Mond’s worst performances of the season, resurrecting the possibility that he could be benched for fellow sophomore Nick Starkel for the second year in a row. That’s not going to happen this weekend against Ole Miss, which is without a doubt the SEC defense that gives a slumping quarterback the best chance to get right. Once Mond is back on track, though, it remains an open question how long he’ll manage to stay there.
Mond was touted as a dual threat out of IMG Academy, and although he hasn’t featured heavily as a designed runner in Fisher’s offense, his mobility is an obvious asset. That was most obvious in a 45-23 loss at Alabama, where Mond accounted for 129 of A&M’s 161 rushing yards against the Tide (not including negative yardage on sacks) and flashed both breakaway speed …
— SEConCBS (@SEConCBS) September 22, 2018
… and short-area agility at the expense of future draft picks:
Kellen Mond is one elusive QB. pic.twitter.com/gZRk1bet3R
— SEConCBS (@SEConCBS) September 22, 2018
But the full range of his talent was best exemplified by the Aggies’ electric, down-to-the-wire loss to Clemson, arguably the best single-game performance by any QB this year opposite one of the nation’s elite defenses. Certainly it was the best of Mond’s young career, by a mile. In the past six seasons, only one other quarterback (Jameis Winston, en route to winning the 2013 Heisman) has passed for more yards against Clemson, and only two (Winston and Jacob Coker, in the 2015 National Championship Game) have posted a better efficiency rating:
That’s rare production, obviously, and the highlights exceeded the numbers. It was anything but a by-the-book case of a quarterback setting his feet and hitting open receivers in rhythm from a clean pocket. On his three second-half touchdown passes, Mond threaded the needle into a nearly impossible window …
9/8/18—Texas A&M's Kellen Mond 9-yard TD pass to Kendrick Rogers vs. Clemson pic.twitter.com/2hGlhysWIe
— College Football Clips (@CFB_Clips) September 10, 2018
… ad-libbed a risky throw on the run…
Kellen Mond making plays. Look at this toss. pic.twitter.com/6PsgOX14JE
— Max Olson (@max_olson) September 9, 2018
… and shook off a rusher before rifling the ball past multiple defenders:
QB Kellen Mond has made huge strides as a passer since last season. Made some questionable decisions & accuracy wasn’t consistent in this game but played very well vs a tough Clemson def. Also, Kendrick Rogers is a legit WR prospect #devy #TAMU pic.twitter.com/RmfCoaFCVC
— Jason DiRienzo (@allpurposescout) September 11, 2018
If he has any shot at the next level, that game and those handful of plays in particular will have a lot to do with it. Mond’s athleticism and velocity are potentially draftable traits.
His accuracy and consistency, eh, not so much. As much as the Clemson game offered a glimpse of Mond’s potential, it also remains an outlier that distorts his overall progress. Much of that progress is relative — compared to last year, there’s nowhere to go but up.
Although he has improved dramatically over 2017 (when he finished dead last), Mond still ranks in the bottom half of the conference in completion percentage, and his sophomore touchdown and interception rates have hardly budged. For a guy who’s on the small side for an aspiring NFL quarterback (6-2, 210 pounds, officially), and whose downfield arm strength doesn’t exactly leave opposing secondaries shaking in their cleats (his rate of completions covering 25-plus yards has actually declined), his efficiency still leaves a lot to be desired.
To be fair, his receivers haven’t always been at their best, either, especially in the loss at Mississippi State, where the same guys who shared in Mond’s breakout night against Clemson came down with a collective case of the dropsies. Ditto for his offensive line, which has allowed more sacks this season (31) than any other SEC front and ranks 126th nationally in sack rate. But that number is also a reflection on Mond’s grasp of the passing game, and the speed at which he’s making decisions and getting rid of the ball.
The flip side to his creativity under pressure is his occasional tendency to make a bad situation worse — see the second play from scrimmage against Alabama, which set up a short-field touchdown for Bama’s offense on the next play …
Bama DL Quinnen Williams with a smooth swim move for the near sack + forces a poor throw, leading to a great Mack Wilson INT pic.twitter.com/ornS01NsCy
— Ty Wurth (@WurthDraft) September 22, 2018
… and Mond’s fourth-quarter fumble against Kentucky, which the Wildcats returned for an overtime-forcing TD in a game in which their offense disappeared down a well:
OH MY GOODNESS!!!!
DARIUS WEST SCOOPS THE FUMBLE AND SCORES!!!!!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/y57wfcBYOI
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) October 7, 2018
Mond has improved to the point that he can complete passes on a more or less reliable basis, which wasn’t the case last year. The next step in his growth is eliminating the groaners.
In the end, 2018 will be defined by how the Aggies finish it over the next three weeks, especially the season finale at LSU, a team Texas A&M has yet to beat since joining the SEC — the Tigers have won four of the past five in the series by double digits, including lopsided blowouts the past two years that hastened Sumlin’s exit. This weekend’s date with Ole Miss is an opportunity to look good against a bad defense in a nationally televised game on CBS; the LSU game is an opportunity to sell Fisher’s debut season as a success.
For Mond, just settling in for the long haul in a position that’s been a revolving door should count for something. He’s already the Aggies’ longest-tenured starter since Johnny Manziel; if his progress continues at the same rate in Year 3, the turnover that forced them to accept the initial growing pains will be largely forgotten. But Mond has to get there first, and if the current mood in College Station persists there’s still a chance he might end Year 2 right back where he started.
Matthew Stafford Arm of the Week: Jake Bentley
Bentley’s end of his 75-yard touchdown heave to Bryan Edwards at Ole Miss was overshadowed by Edwards’ one-handed catch on the receiving end, which made it a no-brainer for this week’s edition of Catch of the Year of the Week and a strong candidate for the actual no-kidding Catch of the Year. But throw itself — on the money from more than 50 yards out, despite Bentley getting hit around the waist as he let it rip — was a beauty in its own right:
“Unbelievable throw, too.” Yeah.
QB Curve Power Hour!
Ranking the league’s starting quarterbacks heading into Week 11.
1. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama. Tua looked almost mortal at LSU, throwing his first interception of the year and finishing with season lows in terms of yards per attempt (7.0) and overall efficiency (129.5); with that, he also ceded the national lead in efficiency rating for the first time all season to Kyler Murray. But his most telling number was 42: That’s how many times Tagovailoa put the ball in the air against the Tigers, including a personal-high 31 passes in the first half alone.
That’s the most attempts by an Alabama quarterback in a win in more than a decade — a lopsided, shutout win, at that — and a reflection of just how thoroughly the offense has come to defined by his left arm. (Last Week: 1)
2. Jake Fromm, Georgia. Fromm comes in a bit lower in this week’s statistical Tale of the Tape than you might expect, but for reasons that are encouraging for Georgia’s offense overall:
Fromm is an elite passer according to the “quality” metrics, coming in second to Tagovailoa in both efficiency and Total QBR; that goes hand in hand with the fact he comes in below average in the “quantity” metrics, because Georgia has largely succeeded in achieving a 2-to-1 run-pass ratio. His above-the-fold turn against Florida was encouraging, but Saturday’s distribution against Kentucky (50 carries for 331 yards vs. 20 passes for 113) remains the ideal. (LW: 2)
3. Jordan Ta’amu, Ole Miss. Ta’amu has posted some big numbers the past two weeks, as usual, running up a combined 814 yards of total offense (705 passing, 109 rushing) against Auburn and South Carolina. For all that, though, he accounted for just 1 touchdown in each game, and Ole Miss dropped both to fall to 1-4 in SEC play. (LW: 3)
4. Drew Lock, Missouri. Drewwww. Adjusted for competition, Lock’s 250-yard, 3-touchdown evisceration of Florida has to rank among the two or three best outings of his career — all the more so because it snapped his streak of mediocre performances against Top-25 opponents, in what might be (pending Missouri’s bowl destination) the last game he’ll play against a Top-25 opponent as a Tiger. Prior to Saturday’s win in Gainesville he was 0-9 as a starter vs. ranked teams. (LW: 5)
5. Kellen Mond, Texas A&M.
6. Jake Bentley, South Carolina. Yes, it came at the expense of a defense that’s shaping up to be one of the SEC’s worst of the decade. But Bentley’s final stat line at Ole Miss (22-of-32, 363 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs) was the best of his career, and that doesn’t even include the go-ahead touchdown run in the fourth quarter. If he opts to go pro — hardly a given at this point — it might be as close as he comes to fulfilling his tantalizing/frustrating potential while he’s still on campus. (LW: 9)
Jarrett Stidham makes a perfect throw.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 3, 2018
7. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn. Stidham struggled for three-and-a-half quarters against Texas A&M, limping toward yet another week of speculation over his and coach Gus Malzahn’s futures. Then he caught fire: On Auburn’s last two drives, Stidham finished 7-of-8 for 125 yards, exceeding his output over the rest of the game and producing back-to-back touchdowns to snatch a 28-24 victory from the jaws of a 10-point deficit. That’s the largest fourth-quarter hole the Tigers have overcome in a win since 2013 … at Texas A&M. (LW: 7)
8. Joe Burrow, LSU. Alabama put a decisive end to the notion that Burrow represented a notable upgrade over his long-suffering predecessors at LSU, which always struck me as halfhearted, anyway. Barring an unforeseen collapse, the Tigers still have a good chance to win 10 games and finish in the top 10 for the first time since 2013, which would vastly exceed expectations. (LW: 6)
Nick Fitzgerald with an absolute DIME! pic.twitter.com/khhZOcb5wZ
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 4, 2018
9. Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State. Fitzgerald matched a season high against Louisiana Tech by accounting for 350 total yards (243 passing, 107 rushing), and set a career high with 4 touchdown passes. Next up: At Alabama. (LW: 12)
10. Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt. The Commodores arrive at the annual November crunch needing to win two of their last three to qualify for a bowl game, and possibly to ensure Derek Mason a sixth year at the helm in 2019. It only seems like Shurmur has been around that long himself. (LW: 8)
11. Jarrett Guarantano, Tennessee. Neyland Stadium was only about half full for Tennessee’s 14-3 win over Charlotte, and fans who punted on Homecoming vs. a C-USA doormat made the right call: The Vols took a quick 14-0 lead — thereby quashing any chance of upset-in-the-making suspense — then spent the final 45 minutes exchanging punts in what may down as the least entertaining football game of the year. Guarantano looked sharp early, going 3-for-3 for 61 yards on Tennessee’s lone touchdown drive (the other TD came via punt return), but from there on led just one more drive that crossed midfield. (LW: 11)
12. Terry Wilson, Kentucky. Wilson’s chances of keeping Kentucky competitive against Georgia in anything other than a low-scoring punt-fest were slim to begin with, and once the Bulldogs began to pull away late in the first half the odds quickly dropped to zero. Wilson was solid, completing 23-of-29 attempts without an interception, but managed just one completion of more than 20 yards (a fluky one, in garbage time) and had minimal impact as a runner. (LW: 13)
13. Feleipe Franks, Florida. The tide has turned almost overnight on Franks, who seemed to be on the right track at midseason and now finds himself fighting (again) to remain at the top of the depth chart. He was benched in Saturday’s 38-17 flop against Missouri, yielding to backup Kyle Trask after starting 9-of-22 for 84 yards. Trask fared better (10-of-18 for 126 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs), but not so well that Dan Mullen was willing to anoint him the starter this weekend against South Carolina.
Either guy could play against the Gamecocks, as could true freshman Emory Jones, whom coaches would prefer to redshirt. Even if Franks’ holds onto his job in the short term, a regression that steep, this late in the season, is going to make it an open question next spring. (LW: 10)
14. Ty Storey, Arkansas. The Razorbacks are on track for an 0-8 finish in SEC play, but the jury’s still out on whether Storey is just keeping the seat warm in a lost season or actually stands a chance of retaining the job next year as a fifth-year senior. Win or (more likely) lose, the last three games could go a long way toward moving the needle in the latter direction heading into the offseason. (LW: 14)