John F. Silver
The media day sessions were just wrapping up and as I walked out the door I saw the sophomore quarterback and joked — ”See you ran away from us this week.”
Whitmer waved and smiled and said: ”They told me not to come.”
They is of course UConn Athletic Communications and the why was simple.
No, Whitmer wasn’t ducking the media, the media had no interest in Whitmer.
What was that?
Well, in a shocking turn of events the quarterback issue isn’t an issue for the University of Connecticut right now. After years (we will get to that) of unsteady play and questions in the passing game there is little doubt anywhere that Whitmer is the starting quarterback for the Huskies. His primary backup, last year’s starter Johnny McEntee, has thrown two passes this season. We even saw the de-emphasis of the Wildcat Formation with Scott McCummings last week as Whitmer has turned one of the big question marks into the season into not even a thought as UConn enters Big East play on Saturday against No. 22 Rutgers.
The offensive line? A worry. Defensive line? A worry. Quarterback? UConn is all set.
Whitmer’s line is modest. He has passed for 1,051 yards and four touchdowns in five games and as six interceptions and has lost two fumbles but does have a completion percentage of 61.9 percent as he averages 210.2 yards per game. Yes, the Huskies passing game is modest, but comparing Whitmer for what has passed with quarterback play since Dan Orlovsky left to the NFL in 2004 is light years ahead of nearly any other quarterback play UConn.
Whitmer’s 227 yards in last week’s 24-17 win over Buffalo was a thing of beauty. He found eight different receivers, fit the ball in tight spaces and also was averaging 10.2 yards per attempt — the true sign who vertical the passing game is.
Whitmer is at 210 yards and 61.9 percent completion percentage. Here are UConn’s stats for the previous years passing per game.
2012: 210 yards 61.9 percent completion
2011: 195 yards 50 percent completion
2010 : 151 yards 52 percent completion
2009: 217 yards 57.1 percent completion
2008 140 yards 49.8 percent completion
2007 186 yards 56.1 percent completion
2006 : 141 yards 51.1 percent completion
2005: 149 yards 50.8 completion completion
2004: 281 yards 62.9 percent completion
The barrier, 200 yards passing and 60 percent completion percentage are rare stats for any UConn quarterback since Orlovsky. Consider Whitmer’s first five games – -which have been fraught with adjusting to FBS football coming from Butler Community College — where he has eclipsed the 200 yard mark four times. Whitmer is averaging 210 yards on 61 percent passing in five games while McEntee, all of last season, did not have a single game where he completed over 60 percent of his passes and had 200 yards passing. McEntee finished last season completing 51 percent of his passes, a large reason the staff went out and got Whitmer.
McEntee was a walk-on pushed into action last season, certainly, but Whitmer also compares favorably to the
quarterback play of Zach Frazer on the Huskies way to the Fiesta Bowl. Frazer, who had 17 career touchdown passes to 21 interceptions, was at the helm of the five game run that ended with a Fiesta Bowl bid. In those five games, Frazer never had more than 166 yards passing in that five-game winning streak. He just avoided mistakes and in the 19-16 win over South Florida to get UConn into the Fiesta Bowl, Frazer was 9 of 20 for 100 yards. Frazer’s most prolific game of the year was the Fiesta Bowl where he passed for a season-high 223 yards and 39 attempts with a 45 percent completion percentage.
It goes deeper, the best quarterback play the Huskies have experienced since Orlovsky came in the 2009 season when Cody Endres and WR Marcus Easley teamed up during a four-game stretch where Endres had 289 yards (76.7 completion), 197 (73.9) , 273 (66.7) and 376 (61.0) before Rutgers ended his season with a shoulder separation. Endres never got back in that groove and lost the starting job that spring, before he was unceremoniously kicked off the team for alleged repeated failed drug tests in 2010 after he was put back in as a starter. That Huskies team rallied under Frazer, who led the team to a bowl win and a win at Notre Dame, but only one time did he eclipse 60 percent passing and 200 yards.
It gets even more difficult. The 2008 season was largely poor quarterback play that had UConn underachieving with an All-American tailback in Donald Brown and 4 top two round draft picks. Tyler Lorenzen only eclipsed 150 yards once all season throwing for 184 yards and three interceptions in the opener against Hofstra. Lorenzen did have an excellent junior year in 2007 with a 57.1 percent completion percentages, but his career-high passing of 298 yards was in his first game. He never came close after.
Before Lorenzen it was a mishmash of quarterbacks for two years.
Whitmer’s quarterback play has been steady and accurate and when he has time, has moved the Huskies through the air and gotten a vertical game going. He had interceptions early, but he has grown in leaps and bounds the last two weeks after a risk-less 10 of 16 passing for 68 yards against Maryland. In the last two games the coaching staff has allowed Whitmer to attempt to get the ball downfield and he’s responded. In four of five games this year, the Huskies’ yards per pass attempt was over 8.0 yards and they have been able to do that while maintaining a 60 percent completion percentage.
“He’s doing good,” Pasqualoni said. “He doesn’t take the snap with the preconceived decision to throw the ball to one guy. We don’t play that way. He’s doing a god job working through his progressions. there was evidence last week that he made some real good decisions, decisions I have seen other quarterbacks not make and get in trouble.”
The conventional wisdom for Saturday’s game is UConn’s running game has to get off against the No. 1 ranked run defense in the nation. It’s counter-intuitive for the Huskies to even think about the pass being a strength, but that may be the way against Rutgers. Rutgers is ranked No. 80 in the nation against the pass giving up 247 yards per game. the efficiency is there for Rutgers, at 37th in pass defense efficiency, but the raw yardage suggests there are plays to be made there.
Can Whitmer take that next step?
If he can, the Huskies’ could have some going on in the Big East in 2012.