Quarterbacks struggle in losses by NC State, Duke
In some seasons, our cup overfloweth with good quarterbacks in the Triangle. At times, we’ve even been spoiled by the quality that ends up playing on Sundays. Even this season, Sam Howell is carving out a niche for himself at North Carolina that even T.J. Yates and Marquise
Williams and Mitch Trubisky in recent years couldn’t match.
And then there was Saturday, with Howell and the Tar Heels off, when Duke’s Chase Brice and N.C. State’s Bailey Hockman combined for the kind of line that gives offensive coordinators nightmares: 23-for-52 for 328 yards, two touchdowns and six interceptions in a pair of blowout losses in the Commonwealth. N.C. State lost 45-24 at Virginia Tech, Duke lost 38-20 at Virginia.
Without digging too deep into the darkest recesses of the record books, it was arguably the worst day Triangle quarterbacks have had since November 11, 2006, when Daniel Evans, Thad Lewis and Joe Dailey were 43for-98 with six interceptions and zero touchdowns in a trio of Triangle losses. Not entirely coincidentally, 2006 was one of the rare seasons when none of the three teams made a bowl game.
Not an issue this season!
Both Brice and Hockman had COVID-related excuses, to the point where it’s not really either’s fault. Brice transferred in from Clemson and the disruption of the offseason left him no opportunity to get to know his new teammates. Hockman was a surprise starter in the opener against Wake Forest when Devin Leary spent too much time in quarantine to adequately prepare.
Hockman played well against the Deacons, especially at the start while the Wolfpack tried to find its footing, but struggled mightily from the start against a shorthanded Virginia Tech defense that’s clearly more talented than Wake Forest. The Hokies were missing 22 players and their defensive coordinator with COVID issues, not that anyone would have noticed if they hadn’t known. Hockman was consistently under siege and pressured into several bad throws.
Leary finally came into the game in the third quarter, ready or not, and completed four of his first five passes, including a 4th-down conversion, and a touchdown that pulled the Wolfpack within 20 on a night when very little was going right, even before safety Khalid Martin was taken to a hospital by ambulance after a head-to-head collision, with what the team described as a hip injury.
Then there’s Brice, who arrived from Clemson as a potential savior — he was at Clemson, where he took over for the injured Trevor Lawrence in a comeback win over Syracuse that kept the Tigers’ national title hopes alive — but has somehow gotten worse with each start for Duke. He was useful against Notre Dame, confused against Boston College and lost against Virginia.
He accounted for five of Duke’s seven turnovers Saturday, and his struggles are putting David Cutcliffe’s reputation as a quarterback whisperer to the test. Duke’s 0-3 for the first time in Cutcliffe’s tenure and it feels like the season is hanging by a very thin thread; getting Brice on track is going to be the first and most essential step toward turning the Blue Devils’ season around. He’s headed in the wrong direction and so are the Blue Devils.
The Blue Devils are in worse shape than the Wolfpack, which at least showed some mettle in the win over Wake Forest before failing to capitalize on the Hokies’ absences right from the start Saturday. N.C. State can go back to Leary, without any regrets now, and hope for better.