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2015 Position Previews: Quarterback

I started these position previews with easy targets like the running backs and wide receivers. Now that I've eaten my Wheaties, it's time to look at the quarterback battle. Louisville didn't start the same quarterback for more than four consecutive games in 2014. Some of the shuffling was injury driven, some of it was performance driven. No matter the reason, the success of the 2015 season rides largely (but not entirely) on quarterback earning and keeping the job while staying healthy.

The complicating factor in the quarterback battle is that each contestant clearly has certain strengths and weakness with almost no overlap between them. Playing one means doing things a specific way. Playing another means a significantly different style of attack. So, this is not Brian Brohm going down with an injury, let's put in Hunter Cantwell and keep doing exactly what we do. This is, pick a QB, then run his offense.

The Cast

Name Class Attempts Completions % Yards TD INT Rush Att Yards TD Games
Reggie Bonnafon SO 61 120 50.8 864 5 4 72 164 5 10
Kyle Bolin RS SO 45 78 57.7 716 4 3 11 -15 0 4
Will Gardner RS JR 127 221 57.5 1,669 12 3 22 -106 0 8
Tyler Ferguson JR - - - - - - - - - -
Lamar Jackson FR - - - - - - - - - -

Breaking Down the Battle

Bobby Petrino took a little bit of steam out of the quarterback battle when he told the crew at ESPN for the Car Wash that were they to play today, Reggie Bonnafon would be the starter. Last, just for fun, I posted some clips of Bonnafon doing the stuff he does so well here. Particularly, he throws a great deep ball, is mobile, and has a very strong arm.

Weaknesses? He clearly holds on to the ball too long and it takes him that half-second to second too long to get to the second and third receiver. Here's a good example against Syracuse. He sees Christian, he's clearly open right away and he's the second option on that side. But he pumps one extra time and even though he completes the throw, if he'd just throw it right when Christian is open, he catches it with more space to run and turn up field instead of trying to turn back inside where he gets held up and the ball is ultimately stripped.

With Bolin, it was easy to see that he was decisive in the pocket. Without seeming to make up his mind where to go with the ball before the snap, he made quick decisions and got rid of the ball. He also seemed the most comfortable with throwing the ball over the middle and the receivers actually finally started having some yards after the catch (something they got like, none of, when Gardner and Bonnafon threw the ball). Bolin seemed especially comfortable in empty sets. Far more so than either of the other two QBs.

But Bolin brings his own weaknesses as well. First, the pistol and shotgun read/option stuff is out the window if he's the quarterback and I think Petrino is determined to make that a permanent feature. The recruiting of Bonnafon, Lamar Jackson, Tylin Oden, and Jawon Pass alone should tell you that. Additionally, for all of his decisiveness, Bolin struggles badly, and I mean badly, getting the ball down the field on anywhere outside the hashmarks. Here's two good examples from the Belk Bowl.

Especially worrisome about those two throws is that Bolin had clean pockets and set his feet to throw and woefully underthrew both.

We know what we'll get with Will Gardner. Petrino himself said that by the end of the season he seemed to have a firm grasp of the offense and was more decisive. The issue with him is the gamble of seeing if you can win with him on his third knee injury or just saying we play for the future with a younger guy. Gardner is closest to a mixture of Bolin and Bonnafon, save for the injuries he'd likely be the starter.

Tyler Ferguson probably has the strongest arm of the group. His problem (and it's a big one)? He can't shake off good or bad plays. If he throws a pick, it lingers for another series. If he throws a perfect strike, he basks in it and loses focus. Quarterbacks have succeeded with all sorts of physical limitations. Very, very few have succeeded without being able to just move on to the next play.

Finally, Lamar Jackson. Petrino, at ACC Football Kickoff, praised his size and ease with which he throws the ball. We all know about his mobility. The challenge for him will be learning the offense enough to be impossible to redshirt.

Breakout Potential

Bonnafon, with a year of experience, a spring, and being a year removed from the tragic and sudden loss of his dad, should look better in 2015. Familiarity with the offense and experience should help a great deal with his footwork issues. When you know where to throw and have confidence it's the right decision, you more easily get your feet set and step into your throws.

Personally, my hope is that Lamar Jackson is so impressive that Petrino feels comfortable working him into the offense. To go ahead and let the running part of the offense be the new culture instead of trying to move back and forth between what Bonnafon does and what Gardner, Ferguson, and Bolin do well would be ideal. I can't help but think Petrino's praising of how well Jackson throws the ball even before camp opens is a hint that he has bigger plans for him than redshirting.