Can Jeremy Johnson turn his season around?
Quarterbacks are always under heavy scrutiny for all 128 college football teams, and the pressure only increases in big-time matchups. While it’s still very early in the 2015 season, there are a handful of teams with critical matchups in Week 3. Whether it’s a conference contest, a non-conference matchup or a player looking to solidify his place at the top of the depth chart, Week 3 is a key Saturday for some quarterbacks to make a statement for their team in the national landscape or just to see where they stack up within the conference.
Here’s a look at 10 quarterbacks to watch in critical spots for Week 3’s action:
10 QBs Looking for a Statement Performance in Week 3
Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska – at Miami (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET)
Armstrong has the most career starts of any quarterback on this list. However, question marks surrounded the junior in 2015, as new coach Mike Riley tweaked Nebraska’s offense to more of a pro-style approach. Would Armstrong fit in the new scheme? That was the preseason question surrounding the Cornhuskers and Armstrong. But through two weeks, those questions have been erased. The junior is completing 63.4 percent of his passes, averaging 13.1 yards per completion and has only one interception on 71 attempts. After a last-second loss in the opener against BYU, Nebraska rebounded with an easy win over South Alabama. However, Saturday’s game against Miami will be a tough test on the road, as Armstrong faces a secondary that has allowed only one passing score (yes, questionable competition) and has limited quarterbacks to a 51.1 completion percentage through two games. So far, Armstrong’s transition to the offense has been seamless. And a clutch performance against the Hurricanes would be a good way to build confidence and continue to show why Armstrong could be one of the nation’s most improved passers this year.
Related: 10 Amazing Stats to Know from Week 2
Jake Coker, Alabama – Ole Miss (Saturday, 9:15 p.m. ET)
With one of the nation’s top defenses and rushing attacks in place, Alabama doesn’t need an elite playmaker at quarterback. Sure, it would be nice, but the Crimson Tide just needs their quarterback to eliminate mistakes and get the ball in space to their playmakers. After throwing for 213 yards and a score against Wisconsin in the opener, Coker wasn't as sharp against MTSU, completing 15 of 26 for 214 yards, one touchdown and one interception. There’s certainly room to improve for Coker heading into Saturday night’s game versus Ole Miss. The Rebels are the best defense Alabama has seen so far in 2015, but Coker could solidify his place at the top of the depth chart and eliminate some of the question marks surrounding this position in Tuscaloosa with a steady performance on Saturday night.
Will Grier, Florida – vs. Kentucky (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET)
Treon Harris or Grier? That’s the key question facing new coach Jim McElwain once again this week. Harris started the opener against New Mexico State, while Grier got the nod against East Carolina in Week 2. Both quarterbacks have looked sharp at times, but will one emerge as the clear starter? Kentucky’s secondary features a true freshman (Chris Westry) starting at one cornerback spot, and this unit has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 63.2 percent of their passes so far this year. Will Grier make a clear claim for the job against the Wildcats? Or will Harris continue to make this decision a tough one for McElwain?
Brandon Harris, LSU – vs. Auburn (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET)
There’s no doubt LSU is going to win a lot of games on the strength of its defense and rushing attack. However, for the Tigers to make the jump to contend for the SEC West title in 2015, the passing game has to improve after struggling mightily in 2014. The opener against McNeese State was canceled due to weather, but Harris showed promise by completing 9 of 14 passes for 71 yards in a road win at Mississippi State. He also rushed for 48 yards and five carries, and most importantly, tossed zero interceptions. Auburn should be a good test for Harris, as new coordinator Will Muschamp has this unit on the right track, and the Tigers have allowed only one play of 30 yards or more. With end Carl Lawson and safety Tray Matthews expected back from injury, Auburn’s defense should be at full strength on Saturday afternoon.
Jerrod Heard, Texas – vs. California (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET)
Texas ran only 38 plays against Rice, so it’s tough to evaluate the offense under new play-caller Jay Norvell. However, Heard showed flashes of promise, completing 4 of 7 passes for 120 yards and two scores, while leading the team with 96 yards on the ground. Although Heard has to develop as a passer, his running ability could be a difference maker for a young Texas offense. California has one of the nation’s best offenses, so the Longhorns will have to score a few points to keep up with the Golden Bears. Is Heard ready to take another step forward in his development?
Jeremy Johnson, Auburn – at LSU (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET)
High expectations surrounded Johnson this preseason, but the junior is off to a slow start. Through two games, Johnson is completing 60.4 percent of his throws and has 373 passing yards and three scores. However, Johnson isn’t the runner that last year’s starter Nick Marshall was (only 18 yards so far) and has tossed five interceptions on 53 picks. Additionally, Johnson has only two passing plays of 30 yards or more (tied for seventh in the SEC) and just a single pass connection of 40 yards or more. Big plays are a staple of Auburn’s offense under coach Gus Malzahn, but the Tigers are lagging in that department so far. With a trip to LSU ahead this Saturday, Johnson has a chance to shake off the slow start and get back on track before the heart of SEC play.
Chad Kelly, Ole Miss – at Alabama (Saturday, 9:15 p.m. ET)
Kelly has earned high marks for his first two performances in an Ole Miss uniform, but Saturday night’s matchup against Alabama will be his toughest of 2015. After transferring to Oxford from the junior college ranks (after a stint at Clemson), the junior was picked over Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade as the starter this offseason. Kelly completed 9 of 15 passes for 211 yards and two scores in the opener against UT Martin and followed that up with an even better performance against Fresno State. Kelly passed for 346 yards and four scores on 20 completions against the Bulldogs and also added a score on the ground. Through two weeks, Kelly is tied for 11th nationally in passes of 30 yards or more nationally (five) and has three completions of 50 yards or more. The junior’s ability to stretch the field only adds to the explosiveness of this group and could be the missing piece in Ole Miss’ quest to win the SEC West in 2015.
DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame – vs. Georgia Tech (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET)
Kizer was placed into a difficult role for his first taste of extended action. Prior to Saturday’s appearance against Virginia, Kizer had just one career pass attempt (Week 1). But after Malik Zaire went down with a season-ending ankle injury, Kizer stepped into the spotlight and completed 8 of 12 passes for 92 yards and two scores. The biggest throw of Kizer’s day was a 39-yard strike to Will Fuller with 12 seconds left, which was just enough for Notre Dame to earn a 34-27 victory. The redshirt freshman should benefit from a full week of snaps with the No. 1 offense, and the strong supporting cast in South Bend should ease his transition into the starting lineup. If Kizer delivers with a strong performance in Week 3, the concerns about the offense without Zaire should quiet – at least for one week.
Nathan Peterman, Pittsburgh – at Iowa (Saturday at 8 p.m. ET)
Peterman isn’t guaranteed the starting job, as coach Pat Narduzzi is playing coy with the depth chart as a road trip to Iowa awaits the Panthers in Week 3. Last year’s starter Chad Voytik was outplayed by Peterman against Akron last Saturday. While Voytik completed 6 of 8 passes for 32 yards, Peterman was 12 of 17 for 148 yards and a score. Through two weeks of action, Voytik has a small edge in attempts (22 to 21), but Peterman has 209 passing yards to 104. Additionally, Peterman is averaging a healthy 14.9 yards per completion. It wouldn’t be a surprise if both quarterbacks played on Saturday night. However, will Peterman build off last week’s performance and claim the job outright?
Darius Wade, Boston College – Florida State (Friday, 8 p.m. ET)
Boston College has thoroughly dominated its first two opponents, but the schedule gets significantly tougher this Friday, as defending ACC champion Florida State visits Chestnut Hill. The Eagles have the defense and rushing attack to pull off the upset over the Seminoles, but is Wade ready to stretch the field to prevent the Seminoles’ defense from stacking the box? The sophomore played sparingly against Howard and threw for 155 yards against Maine. Without question, this is Wade’s toughest assignment of 2015. The sophomore doesn’t necessarily have to throw for 300 yards for Boston College to win, but this is a good opportunity for the dual-threat sophomore to see just how far along he is in his development.