In Week 1, James Blackman momentarily lost control of his helmet – and then control of the offense, as Layne Hatcher jumped into the huddle and led the Red Wolves to victory over Central Arkansas. Week 2, it was simply a hunch from Butch Jones that led to Blackman replacing Hatcher in the second half, nearly resulting in a stunning come-from-behind victory over the Memphis Tigers.
If the Red Wolves could bottle the magic from its second half quarterback performances, Arkansas State might be giving Alabama indigestion.
|2nd Half Hatcher||150||4||315||UCA|
|2nd Half Blackman||308||4||199.7||Memphis|
Against UCA, Blackman wasn’t necessarily performing poorly; he simply didn’t seem to have much chemistry with his receivers. Hatcher came in and immediately reminded the offense that Corey Rucker is a weapon, hitting the talented COVID freshman for three touchdowns. The connection between Rucker and Hatcher was uncanny – it was like watching a really good magic trick. It seemed obvious that Hatcher, the veteran incumbent, was the right pick behind center moving forward.
The roles seemed almost perfectly reversed in Week 2. Hatcher wasn’t exactly playing poorly (276, 1 TD), but he didn’t seem to have that same telepathic rapport with the offense. Down 41-23, Coach Butch Jones made a call from his gut and brought in Blackman, who almost immediately responded with a 4 play, 79 yard drive that concluded with a 23 yard Rucker touchdown. He would later add TD passes to Akeem Hayes, Adam Jones and Jeff Foreman.
There are differences in the performances – mostly the circumstances. The Red Wolves defense had locked down the UCA Bears offense, helping to cement the victory for Hatcher. The next week, the Red Wolves defense had few answers for RB Brandon Thomas (191, 2 TDs) and WR Calvin Austin (239, 3 TDs), and Blackman found himself compelled to hit Te’Vailance Hunt (123, 1TD) and Jeff Foreman (198, 1 TD) for long passes. In fact, the 89-yard TD between Foreman and Blackman is the university’s longest passing score on record.
Also bear in mind, UCA is an FCS opponent with FCS depth and size. Memphis is fast and big. The degree of difficulty was greater for Blackman, and he often used his speed to escape trouble in the pocket. Hatcher may have a mind-meld with Rucker, but it appears that Blackman is the better athlete who can throw deep and, when necessary, put on a bit of speed.
Who does Coach Jones start against 0-2 Washington next Saturday? Having two great options at quarterback is a wonderful problem. Howlraiser was all in on Hatcher after UCA. Now the pendulum swings to Blackman, who appears to have learned a few things about decisiveness from Hatcher and has added the skill to his repertoire.
Blackman is the guy. At least, until the second half.
PHOTO CREDIT: Arkansas State Athletic Department