We are now a third of the way through the season, and the Wolfpack has more questions than answers at this point. The offense has been non-existent for long stretches, the defense looks inconsistent after a stout first two weeks, and both sides of the ball have been hit with key injuries. The glaring question in need of an answer that gets the most publicity, whether fair or not, is what will be the end result of this quarterback situation. There are plenty of issues that need fixing, but everything always seems to come back to the quarterbacks. So I’ll humor you.
I’m not ready to completely write Matt McKay off like a great majority of the fan base is. It’s almost like people expected him to step in and immediately look like Ryan Finley did last year. Wait… yeah that’s exactly what some people expected. The guy has started 4 games in his career. Ryan Finley was a 6th year senior with two legit NFL receivers and one of the better offensive lines in the country. And while Finley had a little bit better start in his first four games, there were plenty of questions throughout his first season in Raleigh, namely his inability to throw the deep ball. Sound familiar? What I’m getting at is there were going to be some bumps at the quarterback position no matter who won the job in fall camp.
Is McKay the guy? I’m not sure. It’s not like he has no talent, and I’m still hopeful he can put things together. The sample size is growing larger though and he’s certainly starting to be on thin ice. But what I don’t get is why everyone just assumes that one of the other two guys is going to magically fix all the problems. The backup quarterbacks are always the most popular players on the team until they come in and fans realize why they weren’t starting in the first place. The thing is that while McKay has clearly had his struggles, I haven’t really seen much from Bailey Hockman in his limited time that makes him seem like he’d be an obvious upgrade. Part of that is due to how limited his reps have been, which I do wish we could’ve seen a little more of him in the first two games and even be thrown out for a second series against Ball State. He had a nice scramble to convert on third and long, and the pass that got intercepted was a laser that was probably more on Tabari Hines.
Speaking of the backups, there were several twitter polls during and after the Ball State game with thousands of votes on who people want at quarterback. Every one that I saw was overwhelmingly for Devin Leary with Hockman the second choice. The dumbest part is some twitter folks actually think things like this might sway the coaching staff to make a change, with even some tweeting at Dave Doeren. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed (depending on the context), but if there’s one thing I’m certain of it’s that Dave did not sit in the Murphy Center on Monday morning and say “ah gee Billy put up a sick twitter poll and 64% think Devin Leary should be the starter, welp guess that’s that”. If your name is Billy I apologize, you’re probably a really cool guy it was just the first name that popped in my head.
So anyways, the logic is that the 3rd string quarterback who has never played a college snap is currently the best option to win games in the ACC. When Leary committed a few years ago, everyone fell in love with him and latched on to the idea that he was the next great QB at NC State because he was a big-time recruit with awesome highlights. Guilty as charged. Look, I’m as big a Leary fan as the next person and there’s no denying his arm talent, dude has a cannon. And there’s certainly still a chance it could click for him and he becomes a great player here. But the fact is there was a quarterback battle that started in January, and he finished 3rd and has not sniffed the field. That’s got to be a sign that maybe he’s not ready. The coaching staff watches these guys every day in practice and I assume they are not trying to lose games on purpose.
I still believe at this point Matt McKay is probably the best option, for better or worse. That could certainly change this week. He looked really good in the 2nd quarter after the Hockman series, and has shown flashes of being a capable ACC-caliber QB. But he was obviously pretty bad in the second half the last two weeks. It all comes down to consistency with him. More often than not he’s making the right read and going to the right place with the ball, but just missing too many throws. A 58% completion percentage isn’t going to cut it, especially with the lack of a deep ball at the moment. The hope is that with some more experience and building chemistry with his receivers, you’ll start to see him hit some more of these throws. If not, well then yeah that’s a pretty big issue. I just think it’s easier to improve the physical skills on the fly than the mental aspect.
He’s most likely going to start this Saturday against Florida State, and I’d imagine Hockman will get another series unless McKay is just lighting it up. The play calling needs to be much better than it was in their first road game, they cannot get behind the chains constantly like they did. If he comes out and struggles to move the ball the first few series, then yes, they’ll probably be forced to give Hockman a little more extended look and I’d have no problem with that. I highly doubt we see Leary, however that would probably make a lot people happy. Dealing with a QB controversy while heading into the meat of the schedule is pretty scary, especially with the other issues that have surfaced. There’s still a lot of football left to be played with a ton of winnable games remaining, but someone is going to need to step up sooner rather than later.