Is Zeb Noland going to be more than a 1-week wonder? Either way, he deserves praise
Immediately after former grad assistant Zeb Noland delivered 4 touchdown passes in his highly anticipated start to kick off the Shane Beamer, the South Carolina coach said that he’s not naming a starter for Saturday’s game against East Carolina.
Beamer didn’t get caught up in the hoopla of Noland’s meteoric rise within the South Carolina locker room, nor did he pour cold water on the flames of a hot Week 1 story.
Maybe Luke Doty will return from the injury that put Noland in that spot to soar up Beamer’s first depth chart. Or maybe Noland’s relatively mistake-free showing against FCS Eastern Illinois earned him another start. Shoot, for all we know, there are going to be more reps for Dakereon Joyner after he got 3 snaps at quarterback in the opener (and 33 at receiver).
Whatever awaits, though, Noland forever earned himself a place in the heart of the South Carolina faithful. Perhaps not like Stephen Garcia-post 2010 Alabama game type of love. But appreciate what Noland did even if his story has an ugly chapter on Saturday or if that’s the last snap he plays at quarterback in his life.
I’m not just saying that because the guy had more touchdown passes than Sam Howell, Spencer Ratter, DJ Uiagalelei, JT Daniels and D’Eriq King combined, though that helped. If Noland had attempted 5 passes for 30 yards in a South Carolina win, it still would’ve been worthy of praise. Instead, he converted in the red zone and looked the part of a capable Power 5 starter:
Zeb Noland is an interesting story, a former grad assistant turned player. Here he displays accuracy and velocity by hitting a very tight window for the TD pic.twitter.com/HtRhWuCWB2
— Tyler Browning (@DiabeticTyler) September 6, 2021
Think about how awkward things could’ve gotten for Beamer had the Noland experience gone south in a hurry.
If you don’t believe that, go back and read the replies/quote tweets to the initial tweet that announced Noland as the Week 1 starter.
Remember, the questions surrounding Beamer as a hire were about his lack of experience as an FBS coordinator or head coach. He’s never been in charge of a quarterback battle. Lord knows the previous regime didn’t exactly handle those very well. If you were looking for a reason to mock Beamer as a hire, Noland looking more grad assistant than quarterback would’ve been a good place to start in Week 1.
Beamer understood that. Didn’t matter. He still went out there and made the decision to go with him over FCS transfer Jason Brown, former 4-star QB recruit Joyner and true freshman Colton Gauthier.
I don’t think we can underestimate how much Beamer would’ve been criticized if his camp evaluation blew up in his face. He faced that head-on ahead of his debut.
“I know what the narrative may be out there, so let’s forget about it and lose the narrative that (Noland) hasn’t played a football game in two or three years and he was walking up and down the hall like Uncle Rico talking about what he did back in the day as a quarterback,” Beamer said on the Tuesday ahead of his first start. “He played quarterback a couple of months ago — 3 months ago. He’s been a graduate assistant coach since June.
“Like I told you when we activated him to our roster, he’s played in a college football game a hell of a lot more recently than anybody on our team. Is it a little bit unique? Yes. But it wasn’t like he played a few years ago. He played a few months ago.”
And according to Beamer, Noland handled the protections better than his competition. The guy who backed up Trey Lance at North Dakota State wasn’t sacked a single time on Saturday. There were times he saw pressure, too. On 3rd-and-9 in the first quarter up 7-0, EIU had a corner blitz and a linebacker rushing free. The running back picked up the linebacker and the corner had a clean shot, but Noland delivered the ball as he was being hit:
Noland actually made the wrong read — Nick Muse and Jalen Brooks were both open to his right — but he knew he had to get rid of the ball quickly, and he made an on-target throw that ultimately resulted in a first down.
That sort of epitomized Noland’s night. Was he a revelation? No. The guy averaged 5.5 yards per attempt against a bad FCS program. But was he everything and more that Beamer could’ve hoped for? Absolutely.
Marcus Satterfield drew up an excellent game plan getting Noland high-percentage throws, and South Carolina’s did a nice job of giving him throwing windows in the middle of the field. Combine that with the advantage that the Gamecocks had at, well, everywhere and sure, the odds were in Noland’s favor.
If there was another Eastern Illinois up this week, it’d be fair to assume that Noland would get start No. 2. East Carolina is similar in name, though not equal in talent level. The Pirates will actually win games against FBS opponents this year, which is why Beamer is playing it a bit more close to the vest than he did for the opener.
One would think that if Doty passes the eye test physically this week — he said on Tuesday he’s “close” to returning and doing more in practice this week compared to last week — he’ll get the nod. In a weird way, it’d be nice if Noland’s story concluded with Saturday’s showing and he didn’t have a back-to-earth moment a la Stetson Bennett IV for Georgia in 2020.
But then again, maybe Doty won’t get the nod. Maybe Beamer wants to roll the dice on Noland again because he feels he can execute the passing game better and if Doty is going to be limited as a runner with his foot, perhaps he’ll try to squeeze a little more juice out of the former grad assistant.
If South Carolina is going to execute Beamer Ball as effectively as it did in Week 1, it might not matter who gets the start. Blocked punts and defensive touchdowns are a quarterback’s best friend.
My guess? Doty gets the start and Noland is the backup. Doty was the guy who had the job coming out of spring, and if Noland could execute that game plan, one would think a more talented player could do the same and offer up more mobility at the position.
Whatever happens, don’t dismiss Noland’s impact. Whether it’s the first of many smart personnel decisions by Beamer or it’s a positive footnote from a 2-10 season, what Noland did took serious chops.
An atypical start to the Beamer era was anything but embarrassing.