CFB Spring Games highlight QB ups, downs

Apr 13, 2024; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Carson Beck (15) takes the snap during the G-Day Game at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mady Mertens-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 13, 2024; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Carson Beck (15) takes the snap during the G-Day Game at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mady Mertens-USA TODAY Sports

Scare for Georgia's Beck 

High point of a so-so Georgia Spring game Saturday was the introduction of former tight end Brock Bowers, who could be a top-ten pick in the 2024 NFL Draft later this month. He drew the loudest cheer of the day.

Low point was when 310-pound guard Tate Rutledge fell back into Carson Beck, possibly the No. 1-rated quarterback in the nation, who crumpled to the ground.

Coach Kirby Smart was standing just behind the play.

"It was a little scary,” he said.

But Beck picked himself up — he completed a first-down pass to wideout Rara Thomas on the play — and kept on going. He played all four quarters for the Red team.

“I was good,” Beck said of the tumble. “It hurt a little bit in the moment.”

And that probably is the most important news item from the conclusion of spring practice of the powerhouse that figures to start the 2024 season ranked first in the country.

The Bulldogs appeared to complete the spring game — the last practice before the team convenes for preseason camp in August — without injury, especially to Beck.

After the 15 practices of the spring, Smart pronounced himself “very pleased with our health coming out of it.”

And while a glorified scrimmage wasn’t the most optimal measurement for the Bulldogs’ firepower – if you don’t believe me, listen to Beck’s answer to a question about how much stock he put in it: “Honestly, not a lot. I mean, it’s just a glorified scrimmage.” — what the red-clad masses saw was impressive.

After coming up short in its pursuit of a third consecutive national championship, a third for Georgia in four years hardly seems unreasonable.

The event included a quarterback with pinpoint accuracy, and a defensive line that, while perhaps lacking a superstar game-wrecker, will be a force.

Smart sees the positives and, ah, challenges.

“When you have a good thrower and a catcher with people that protect, it’s dangerous,” he said.

Mykel Williams, the Bulldogs’ hybrid defender, was impactful despite the defense being prohibited from laying a hand on the quarterbacks. Playing linebacker and on the line, he worked free to close the pocket, took on double-team blocks, made six tackles and made one of the highlight plays of the afternoon, tipping a pass by Beck in the air and then coming down with it for an interception.

Wide receiver Dominic Lovett was a downfield threat with seven catches for 104 yards. The assortment included a great 11-yard catch in the end zone, when he reached around defensive back Patrick Taylor to make the reception.

“That was just by the grace of God,” Lovett said. “I just held on. Great ball, I just caught it.”

That touchdown closed the Red team’s deficit to 20-19 with 27 seconds left in the game. Smart elected to kick the point-after try for a 20-20 tie rather than attempt a two-point play, for fear he give future opponents a look at his two-point playbook.

For a team that is replacing tight end Brock Bowers and likely NFL draftee wide receiver Ladd McConkey, Lovett and his band of receivers showed off ample playmaking ability

Though a teen when Calvin Johnson retired from the NFL, Lovett nonetheless compared transfer wideout Colbie Young to Megatron, the Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver. Johnson entered the NFL at 6-5, 239. Young, who went to Lackawanna College and Miami, transferred to Georgia in December at a trimmed-down 6-5, 215.

Buckeyes sorting through QBs

After its spring game, Saturday, Ohio State is still looking for somebody to take over at quarterback.

Buckeyes coach Ryan Day didn't downplay the expectations in an interview with Joel Klatt of Fox, which became the first non-cable network to broadcast a spring game nationally.

Asked why most of Ohio State's NFL draft-eligible players chose to return, Day said, “to beat the team up north and win a national championship.”

After three straight losses to Michigan, which won the national title last year, the Buckeyes bolstered their roster with transfers in an attempt to replace the Wolverines atop college football.

"We have all the chips in this year, and we want to win it all," senior cornerback Denzel Burke said. "That's the only goal."

Conclusion drawn from this spring game are premature. But the announced crowd of 80,012 got a glimpse of what could and needs to be a special season. For the record — a record that shouldn't be kept — the offense (Scarlet) defeated the defense (Gray), 34-33, under the convoluted scoring system used.

No clear leader emerged at quarterback. Will Howard, a Kansas State graduate transfer lured to Columbus to be the starter, has not clinched the job. Howard was unspectacular but solid on Saturday. He took the first snaps and rotated with junior Devin Brown, redshirt freshman Lincoln Kienholz and true freshman Julian Sayin.

Howard completed 9 of 13 passes for 77 yards. His best play was an 18-yarder to senior Emeka Egbuka, who made a dazzling one-handed catch to stay inbounds.

Brown, who had an impressive spring, led the offense to its only touchdown drive in the first half. He threw over the middle for an 11-yard score to Brennen Schramm, a sophomore walkon from Medina, with 1:33 left in the second quarter. Brown finished 5 of 7 for 66 yards. He also showed off his running ability, scrambling for 14 yards on his first two snaps and later added a 10-yarder.

Saturday's scrimmage probably didn't do much to affect the outcome of QB contest. One piece of evidence: Both quarterbacks attempted to connect with Carnell Tate on identical passes to the corner of the end zone. Neither came close to a completion.

"I'm not going to make any declarations now," Day said. "We'll look at the film and see what it looks like and then decide where to go from there, but I don't have much to say about it right now."

Sayin, the top quarterback in the 2024 recruiting class, created a buzz with his play this spring. Day said Sayin is in the mix. Saturday may have served to pump the brakes a bit, though. Sayin was intercepted by Jaylen McClain, a freshman safety from New Jersey, who returned for a pick-six (though not credited as a touchdown).

Kienholz, who was ineffective in the Cotton Bowl after being thrust into action because of Brown's ankle injury, threw two interceptions.

Air Noland, the other blue-chip OSU freshman quarterback, didn't get his first snaps until midway through the third quarter.

Rising plays in Utah’s spring game

Utah quarterback Cam Rising is on schedule in his comeback from a severe knee injury.

Rising led the offense for three series in Utah’s spring football game Saturday. In leading the Red squad to a 41-21 victory over the White, the senior quarterback had a strong outing in his first live game since sitting out the entire 2023 season, throwing for 208 yards and two touchdowns while completing 15 of 19 passes.

“Feeling strong,” Rising said. “(I have) been accruing a lot of reps and it’s good to be out there with the guys making plays and watching them go.”

Rising will give Utah valuable veteran leadership in the team’s Big 12 debut, after leading the Utes to Pac-12 titles in 2021 and 2022.

Entering his sixth season with the Utes, Rising has a deep familiarity with offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig’s offense. He has 25 career starts at Utah and has 15 games to his credit with at least 200 passing yards, including two 300-yard games and one 400-yard performance.

“I definitely feel like I got the doctorate,” Rising joked. “Six years to prove it, so it’s been good.”

Iamaleava finally debuts with Vols

Nico Iamaleava era finally has arrived at Tennessee. Yes, the No. 2 quarterback in the 2023 recruiting class debuted in the Vols’ rout of Iowa in the Citrus Bowl. Now the quarterback capped Tennessee’s spring practice by giving fans a glimpse of how much he’s grown, with the upcoming season opener August 31 against Chattanooga.

“I know what I came here to do, and it’s my job to go get that done,” said Iamaleava, a product of Warren High in Downey, CA and Long Beach Poly (CA).

He is the first quarterback that coach Josh Heupel signed out of high school to run his up-tempo offense at Tennessee. Iamaleava arrived on campus in December 2022 to start learning behind Joe Milton, and redshirted after playing in five games in 2023.

When Milton opted out of the bowl game, Iamaleava took over as Tennessee’s starter. He ran for three touchdowns and threw for another score in a 35-0 rout that helped the Vols finish the 2023 season ranked No. 17.

The native of Long Beach has the size at 6-6, and a strong right arm. His legs make him a threat to run, and Iamaleava ranked behind only Arch Manning among quarterbacks and third overall in’s composite rankings for 2023.

Two Pitt QBs battle for job

On a sunny Saturday at Acrisure Stadium greeted fans for Pitt’s Blue-Gold spring game, where the Gold team won 17-10, for those keeping score.

It was the first look at the 2024 Panthers with new offensive coordinator Kade Bell, and the Panthers offense moved at a fast pace, with plenty of no-huddle offense. While there were no official stats, the unofficial numbers showed decent days for the Panthers’ top two quarterbacks.

Redshirt junior Nate Yarnell led the Blue team, and was efficient all afternoon with 12 completions on 16 attempts for 108 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman receiver Lamar Seymore. Yarnell, the team’s presumed starter for 2024, looked more comfortable than the self-critiques he gave back in late March.

“I think I’ve definitely improved,” Yarnell said after the game. “I’d like to be perfect — [offensive coordinator Kade] Bell wants us to be perfect. We’re still so far away. Even on my four incompletions, from my eyes, they were easy [completions]. I’ve got to complete all those balls, and that’s what I expect to do. I expect myself to be perfect. We have a great defense. If I can do it against these guys, I can do it against anybody.”

The quarterback, whom Pat Narduzzi called “a gambler” after Pitt’s final spring practice on Thursday, looked like he properly read the field with good decisions and accuracy.

Meanwhile, transfer redshirt freshman quarterback Eli Holstein recovered from a rocky start, which included completing just three of his first 10 passes and an interception. The former four-star prospect who committed to Alabama in 2023 finished with 10 completions on 23 attempts for 128 yards and a six-yard touchdown pass to sixth-year running back Daniel Carter.

Holstein’s interception was the only one thrown by a Pitt quarterback in the game that counted—others were waived off for penalties—which came on a misfired pass that tipped off an hand of sophomore receiver Kenny Johnson into the hands of redshirt junior safety Javon McIntyre.

But the 6-4, 230-pound righty bounced back with a touchdown drive at the end of the first half, when he completed five passes as the offense drove 88 yards. It was a sign of his progress in the offense.

“He gained more composure as the game wore on,” said defensive backs coach Archie Collins, who coached the Gold team. “He has some things he wasn’t used to dealing with, but his timing and things of that nature got better as the game went on.”

Although Yarnell’s team lost, his level of play was up to Narcuzzi’s standard.

“You look at what he’s done in a short period of time,” Narduzzi said of Yarnell. “This was the first opportunity he’s had since he’s been here to get [consistent] reps with the [first team offense]. To me, that’s the most impressive thing. If he keeps learning, he’ll have this offense mastered by the end of summer camp.”

Johnson led all receivers with six catches for 77 yards and a touchdown, with tight end Gavin Bartholomew next with two catches for 45 yards. Bartholomew’s catches featured him running farther downfield than what he’s typically shown. Tight ends coach Jacob Bronowski attributed that to Bartholomew’s improved route-running.

“These last two weeks, he’s been a threat down the field,” Brownowski said. “His route-running is getting better every single day. For him moving forward, that’s the next phase. He needs to continue to improve as a route runner in our offense. There’s so much freedom in our offense. If Gavin hits that next level, like the Travis Kelce’s of the world, that’s what I’m excited about him moving forward.”

Add in Seymore’s touchdown reception and four catches for redshirt freshman receiver Zion Fowler-El, and the Panthers showed potential playmakers in the passing game across the board. Combined, the two top Pitt quarterbacks completed 22 passes in 39 attempts for 280 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. That would be good enough for an NCAA passer rating of 128.5.

However, the Panthers’ run game was inconsistent. The best production came from sixth-year running back Daniel Carter, who had 27 yards on seven carries. But none of Pitt’s running backs averaged 4.0 yards per carry.

Yes, the offensive line was missing three projected starters: redshirt junior Terrence Moore, sixth-year senior Ryan Jacoby, and redshirt senior Branson Taylor. But with a new offense that hasn’t proved anything yet, the rushing offense doesn’t look like it will hit the ground running when summer training camp begins.

The one player who did stand out on Pitt’s offensive line was sophomore guard BJ Williams, who won the Ed Conway award for Pitt’s most-improved player on offense during spring practices.




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