Around The ACC: Quarterbacks now battle-tested

(Photo courtesy of RamblinWreck.com)

New quarterbacks help lead ACC teams to victory in Week 1 

GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – The start of a college football season always means a clean slate, and that definitely held true for Atlantic Coast Conference teams in Week 1. 

Ten of the league’s 14 teams opened with a different starting quarterback from the one that concluded the 2013 season. The new faces included “veterans” such as Boston College graduate student Tyler Murphy and NC State junior Jacoby Brissett, who both began their collegiate careers at Florida. And they included Wake Forest’s John Wolford and Miami’s Brad Kaaya, whose debuts marked the first time in ACC history that two freshmen started under center for league teams on opening weekend.

As expected, there were mixed results and growing pains. But there is ample cause for optimism heading into Week 2 and beyond.

Perhaps the biggest head-turning performance came in Atlanta, where Georgia Tech redshirt sophomore Justin Thomas received the starting nod after appearing in 10 games as the backup in 2013. Thomas completed 11 of 15 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns, added a team-high 71 rushing yards and emerged with a nation-leading pass efficiency rating of 275.3 following the Yellow Jackets’ 38-19 win over Wofford.

“The second half was better than first,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said in evaluating Thomas’ performance.  “I thought Justin settled down, and we played very well in the second half.  A little bit of nerves maybe in the first half … he overthrew some people that were pretty open and missed a couple reads in the option game.  But we're excited about him.  I think once he settled down, he played very well.”

Murphy sparked Boston College’s 30-7 win at UMass with 271 yards total offense – including a team-high 118 on the ground. He became the first-ever Eagles quarterback to post a 100-yard rushing game. In doing so, he also became the first BC quarterback to rush for 100 yards and throw for 100 yards in the same contest.

Even so, Murphy gave his own performance mixed review.

"I thought I played all right,” he said. “There's still a lot of room to improve and ways to get better."

NC State’s Brissett saved his best for last, directing fourth-quarter drives of 99 and 75 yards as the Wolfpack rallied to nip visiting Georgia Southern by a 24-23 score.

“I think he started doing what he was supposed to do,” NC State coach Dave Doeren said. “He was aggressive, and it looked like he was having some fun. I think he saw the guys making plays for him, which makes it easier.”

Every quarterback debut did not produce big numbers or high drama. But even after watching Wake Forest’s offense struggle in the opener at Louisiana-Monroe, first-year head coach Dave Clawson saw indications Wolford – the first true freshman in school history to start a season opener –  has what it takes to play at the highest collegiate level.

“When he had time and a guy was open, he was efficient, and I thought he played with a lot of courage,” Clawson said. “A lot of times when a young quarterback gets hit, you'll see his feet get shaky and bail early, and he didn't do that. When he got pushed to the perimeter, I thought he made really good decisions in terms of when to throw it, when to run it and when to throw it away.

“Was he perfect? No. But I certainly thought considering (it was) his first game as a college starter that he handled himself with a lot of poise, a lot of courage and when we gave him time, he threw the ball accurately.”