Who would’ve thought back in September when I broke down Haynes King’s start against Sam Houston, that seven games later we’d be 3-5 and breaking down Texas A&M’s third starting QB performance? I definitely didn’t see it. There were still plenty of questions surrounding King’s fit, but I think we all felt pretty comfortable with the defense and the players around him on offense that we should make it through non-conference play undefeated and hit SEC play in stride. An Appalachian State upset, three straight SEC heartbreakers, and two QB injuries have finally led us to the moment we’ve all been waiting for: Conner Weigman.
Conner’s numbers were extremely impressive, not just for a true freshman, but for any quarterback. He’s clearly the most gifted and natural passer that we have on our roster, but in a Jimbo Fisher offense it takes much more than that to be successful. Let’s start with the areas where I expect him to improve from his first start to his second.
Staying ahead of the chains
If we learned anything against Ole Miss, it’s the importance of staying on the field as an offense and getting off the field as a defense on 3rd down. As a young quarterback, it’s hard to trust everything happening around you. You worry about protection, routes, and the read you’re making. The longer the 3rd down, the more looks the defense can throw at you and the longer you have to hold onto the ball. The offense was 5/14 on 3rd down and converted one 4th down. The longest conversion we had was the 3rd and goal from the 7 on the final touchdown to Achane on the swing pass. Every other conversion was six yards or less. Play calls make a big difference in staying ahead of the chains, but there are two things Conner can do better to help out. Extend plays with his legs and have some touch on short passes. I attribute both of these to being a little nervous and tense in your first start. Conner is a great runner and I think Jimbo could get him in a little more of a rhythm with his legs early moving forward. When he tripped up those two times it’s not because he isn’t capable, it’s almost like your mind is moving faster than your body and it causes you to lose your balance, but as he gets more comfortable on the field I think we’ll see him become a bigger threat with his legs. Same thing with the short throws, he is just pressing a little bit, but hitting some of those can get you into a 3rd and 6 instead of 3rd and 10.
Know the situation and where you are on the field
As a quarterback, it’s hard to think about anything but scoring a touchdown when you’re moving the ball the way the offense did last weekend. As a fan, you have to wonder how we had 480 yards of offense and only walked away with 28 points. The offense had four drives that made it into Ole Miss territory that never resulted in points. Once again, Jimbo could be a little more helpful with play calls that keep us moving forward, but Conner had some plays that I’m sure he would like back. On the drive that Conner threw a flat route to Evan on 4th and 2, he had Chase Lane on a slant route for a 1st down, the ball would’ve had to come out quick and he would’ve gotten hit as soon as he caught it, but at least you’re throwing it past the sticks. A couple of drives later it was 14-10 right before half. Any points on that drive and getting the ball back after half is a huge momentum boost, especially after Ole Miss had run the fake punt and had a nice drive. It was 2nd and 16 from the Ole Miss 36, Conner stared down Donovan Green and he was double covered, Moose came wide open on a dig route (Conner hit him on it about three more times in the game) that would’ve been completed around the 20 and at least guaranteed a field goal, if not extending the drive for a touchdown. Instead he took a sack at the 40 and was now out of field goal range. Now it’s 3rd and 20 and you know a first down isn’t likely, but 10 more yards and you give your kicker a manageable field goal try. Conner tried to force in a long corner route to Moose that ultimately ended up incomplete and resulted in a punt. Three points there could’ve gone a long way and as Conner matures, he’ll know the situation better and understand when it’s alright to settle for three and when to force it for six.
Trying to find areas improvement for Conner was tough, he played a heck of a game and Jimbo said in his press conference to slow the roll a little bit and just let him grow, but it’s clear that he has all of the tools to lead this team in the direction that all of us Aggie fans want it to go. Let’s look at what made Conner’s performance so impressive and how he will challenge defenses moving forward.
Quick processing/Good eyes
One thing that was evident on Saturday, was that Ole Miss was throwing a ton of different looks at Conner and seeing how he would react. They were trying to force him into Freshman mistakes, but he wasn’t falling for it. The best coaching advice I ever received as a quarterback was to eliminate the bull****. There is a lot to process as a quarterback, but if you focus on the right defenders and reads, the rest is just nonsense. Conner did a great job of locating the conflict defenders on RPO’s and moving through his progressions quickly on drop back passes. Jimbo acknowledged in the press conference that he made it to his last read a couple of times and that tells me that he’s taking what the defense gives him and not making up his mind before the play. I loved watching Conner’s helmet move from one guy to the next and deliver the ball on time. Jimbo kept the game plan pretty simple and ran a lot of the same concepts, so I’m looking forward to seeing the offense open up a little bit more for Conner as he progresses.
Finding one-on-one matchups
There have been a lot of frustrations with the quarterback play this year, but two big areas have been throwing into danger and not getting the ball to your playmakers enough. When you have guys like Evan Stewart and Devon Achane on your team, you can’t waste moments that they’re in single coverage. Conner did a great job of recognizing coverage and seeing when they would roll a safety into the box and leave Evan 1 on 1. I’m sure Evan wishes he could have one of those fade balls back when we had the chance to go up two scores, but there will be so many more opportunities for these two to connect in the coming years and Conner won’t shy away from feeding his star receiver. Conner also found Achane in the flats a couple of times and the final one resulted in a touchdown. Giving him an additional seven touches in the passing game is huge, especially when defenders have to focus on other routes and it allows him to go one-on-one in the open field. Spoiler alert, he’s going to win that matchup every time.
This has more to do with play calling than anything, but Conner’s abilities allow the offense to be a lot more balanced and not so one dimensional. Conner had to throw it a lot late because of the score, but until then, it was almost a 50/50 split on run and pass. His ability to make any throw on the field and also extend plays with his legs provides a lot of challenges for a defense and should hopefully continue to open up the run game a little bit more. If the defense wants to load up the box, Conner showed he has no issue moving the ball down the field with his arm. Hopefully Jimbo recognized that mixing tempos was a huge weapon as well and Conner is able to handle both playing fast and slowing the game down. Young quarterbacks have a hard time going away from what they’re comfortable with, but Conner is proving that he can thrive with whatever is needed.
Compare him to Johnny, compare him to Kyler, compare him to whoever you want, but I think he has the most upside to any quarterback we’ve ever seen here. That’s a lot to put on a young kid and he definitely has a ways to go, but if that grin he had on his face during the 4th quarter of an SEC game tells me anything, it’s that he’s ready for it. His baseball background was pretty evident on the first drive when you saw how fast the ball came out of his hand. On the second drive, he made a throw on a corner route off of his back foot, with a blitzer in his face to Moose for 17 yards that only about five quarterbacks in the NFL could currently make. Like I said earlier, I’m looking forward to seeing him move around a little bit more because I think he’s a serious threat as a runner as well. He’s not a straight line speed type of guy like Haynes, but he has that feel that allows him to make defenders miss and cause headaches for defensive coordinators.
Look for Jimbo to open up the offense a little bit more this week and allow Conner decide if it’s the right time to take a shot or just check the ball down. I expect him to make some more plays with his legs as well and hopefully the offense continues to trend in the right direction.