The Eternal and Confounding Underestimation of Layne Hatcher

Last season, shortened and made stupid by COVID19, Red Wolves QB Layne Hatcher tossed for 2,058 yards, completed 60% of his passes, threw a total of two picks and put receivers in the end zone 19 times – good enough for a 179.2 QB rating from ESPN. By comparison, the nation’s anointed #1 quarterback, Shane Rattler, earned a 172.6 ESPN QB Rating.

But unlike Rattler, Hatcher produced his numbers with only half the available snaps, sharing equal time with Logan Bonner (who has since transferred to Utah State). Now in year three of his tenure with Arkansas State, having thrown for 5,000 yards and 46 touchdowns in his short career as a Red Wolf, you’d think Hatcher would be receiving an equipment bag full of preseason accolades.

Nope! It appears that underestimation is an inseparable component of Hatcher’s brand. Upon turning in a spectacular 2020 season, he’s endured the slings and arrows of preseason snubs, with Athlon putting Hatcher on its Sun Belt third-team, and Phil Steele not putting Hatcher on any team. What gives?

Steeles’ omission is especially puzzling. Both Athlon and Steele rated second-year Chants’ starter Grayson McCall first team SBC (understandable), and the Cajun’s Levi Lewis second (debatable), but Steel placed second year Georgia State QB Cornelious Brown IV on his third team, and South Bama’s Jake Bentley (a transfer from Utah) on his fourth team SBC.

Bentley, who had a couple fine seasons at South Carolina, hasn’t taken a full season of snaps since 2018. Last season, he started five games and threw six TDs against six picks. But yes, he’s going to tear up the Sun Belt.

What, exactly, is the knock on Layne Hatcher?

Well, he’s short (listed at 6′, but I dunno). He’s not very fast (61 rushing yards in two years). Last season, he didn’t win the job outright from Bonner. This season, Butch Jones brought in Florida State transfer James Blackman to the quarterback room – in addition to transfers like AJ Aycock (LSU) and Allen Walters (Mississippi State).

Is it possible that the coaching staffs – Blake Anderson’s and Jones’ – are’t sold on Hatcher?

“The dude just wins,” a high-up A-State official once told me regarding Hatcher, and even with the Red Wolves notching just 4 victories in 2020, I hold this assessment to be true. In the final seconds in the Arkansas State’s victory of Kansas State, it was a 17 yard pass from Hatcher to Jonathan Adams that sealed the win. In the 59-52 win over Georgia State, it was Hatcher with the 4 TD passes and 332 yards. It was Hatcher that put up nearly 400 yards in the 2019 Camellia Bowl. Hatcher simply brings a winning mindset.

And yet, Hatcher is not the undisputed starter heading into the 2021 season. At this year’s Spring Game, Hatcher didn’t seem very sharp while freshman Wyatt Beagle showed off a big arm. One has legitimate permission to wonder if Hatcher’s “Chuck It Up” style of play was successful because he had incredible talents like Omar Bayless and Adams out-manning cornerbacks.

To be clear, Hatcher’s rapport with 2nd-year WR Corey Rucker was harmonic during the Spring Game. Also, Spring games are indicative of nothing. Furthermore, the A-State QB Room was nearly empty upon Anderson’s departure, so adding transfers is more a supply chain move than anything. Butch Jones, who met Hatcher at Alabama where the QB committed to as a freshman, has no overt reason for downgrading Layne Hatcher.

Unless, of course, Jones is underestimating him.

PHOTO CREDIT: I took that!