Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the QB
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of Grob are stored
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift arm
His truth is marching on
Glory, Glory Hallelujah, indeed.
I have few rules in life, but one rule is that any time Syracuse gets a QB recruit from Central Texas, I'll be there. So, on Friday, my brother and I drove about an hour and a half north to watch Zach Allen and Temple High School take on local Austin powerhouse, Westlake. For a bit of context, Westlake was ranked as the #4 team in Central Texas and had, the week previous, beaten the #1 ranked team in Central Texas. Westlake was getting a ton of hype for their defense and had held the aforementioned previous #1 team to 7 points the week prior. Westlake was led offensively by their QB, Jordan Severt, who is being recruited by Ohio State. The Temple fans, much like Syracuse fans on Saturday, were hoping to keep the game respectable and saw it as a good measuring stick.
Zach Allen beat Westlake. I suppose it is the correct thing to say that Temple beat Westlake 49-42, and of course technically that is true. The truth, however, is that Temple was Zach Allen and a bunch of decent players. Allen was by far the best player on the field and completely outplayed Severt. Westlake keyed their defense to stop Allen, and they couldn't slow him down. Here's an article/boxscore from the game: http://westlakepicayune.com/2012/09/07/chaps-come-up-short-in-temple/
For those who don't feel like clicking on the link, Allen went 22/33 for 282 yards 4TD and 0 INT. He ran 16 times for 67 yards. I can attest that of the 11 incompletions, the vast majority of of them were throw aways while under pressure. I can only think of 2 legit incompletions - one where Allen underthrew an 7 yard out and one where the receiver was streaking up the sideline but looked up too late and the ball ate him up.
Zach's mom told me (we'll get to more of this later) that Temple was down their top 4 offensive linemen, including their SMU bound tackle who was hurt midway through the first quarter, and it showed. Westlake got a ton of pressure on Allen for most of the game. Temple, runs a no huddle hurry up zone read spread option offense, but they do a lot of straight pocket passing out of it. Every snap Allen took was from the shotgun (so he'll need to adjust there). The two things that stand out about Allen are:
1) his accuracy. He has above average arm strength, and at least for the game I saw, was just incredibly accurate. He was hitting receivers right in stride and right in the hands. He led his receivers well on deep throws and he hit receivers on time right as they were coming out of their breaks on the shorter throws. He floated a few outs to the sideline, which he'll have to clean up at the next level to avoid pick 6's against bigger, stronger, faster players, but he threw an array of throws and was just incredibly accurate all night, even under pressure. He was flushed from the pocket a lot and is good throwing on the run while maintaining accuracy.
2) his pocket presence. One play, in particular, stands out to me. Westlake brought a linebacker off the edge on a blitz, to Allen's blindside, that wasn't picked up. It was a free release. Allen was looking downfield and right as you were bracing for a huge hit and potential fumble, he somehow just felt the pressure, took 2 steps up in the pocket as the blitzing linebacker flew by, and started to scramble. He could have run right up the middle for about 8-10 yards, but as he was moving up he kept his eyes downfield and hit a receiver about 15 yards downfield. I loved the coolness under fire he showed, I loved how he was disciplined enough to keep his eyes downfield where a lot of young athletic QB's will tuck and run, and I loved how he was able to sense the pressure from his blindside and adjust, all without panicking.
He was hit a lot in this game. I didn't keep track, but he was sacked at least a few times and hit many more. It could have been much worse, but he was nimble and elusive in the pocket and was able to keep plays alive long enough to either throw the ball away or get a nominal gain. There was one point where he his o-line was getting eaten alive and he was swamped 3 plays in the row. On the third play he somehow made 2 or 3 defenders miss and bought time, but his receivers downfield didn't break off their routes to come back to the play and help out, so as a result he had to throw the ball away. The entire game he came off as a quiet leader type, wasn't all rah-rah or vocal, but he let loose. You could hear him yelling and getting in the faces of his receivers from the stands. He wasn't showing them up or embarrassing them, but letting them know what's what.
One other thing deserves being pointed out. Temple got out to a quick start and was leading 20-7 in the first quarter before surrendering 28 straight points (21 of which came on 2 blocked punts and a botched snap on a punt, meaning, of course, that Allen will be used to jacked special teams when he comes to Syracuse). For most of the game, Temple was in come from behind mode. They went for 2 twice and converted and they went for it on 4th down probably 3 or 4 times with the game on the line. Each time Allen converted. They were make or break high pressure plays, and he was cool as a cucumber each time.
That's the on field stuff. I'd be remiss if I didn't also include the off field stuff. You see, fellow beloved TNIAAM'ers, I went to the game not only as a ridiculously amateur scout, but also as an ambassador for Syracuse Nation. I was decked out in Syracuse gear and let everyone around me know that I was here only to see the next great Syracuse QB, which was met with great delight to the people of Temple, Texas (perhaps we can annex Temple as part of the Otto-man Empire?) I arrived about an hour before kickoff and was leaning against the front railing watching warmups when a little kid, about 10ish, who had been wandering the sidelines noticed my shirt and yelled up, "hey, my brother is going to Syracuse next year!" I asked him if his brother was Zach Allen, and he told me yes. He looked amazed that I knew that. I asked if Zach was excited about Syracuse, and his brother said he was. I told him I had driven all the way from Austin to watch his brother play and that everyone in Syracuse is really excited for his brother to come play football there. The kid smiled and ran off, back to the sidelines where Zach was standing with his parents (it was parent's night, so pregame introductions included the parents standing on the sidelines). I saw the kid talking to Zach and his parents and then pointing at me and my brother. We started screaming, "SYRACUUUUUUSSSSSEEEEEEEE" and giving the thumbs up. They looked embarrassed. We didn't care.
At halftime, we were milling around stretching our legs when he leaned against the railing to watch the marching band do marching band things. After a few minutes, Zach's mom came up to me and introduced herself. She said it meant so much to her and her family to have Syracuse fans come out just to support them, and that Zach had told her how honored he was by the support. We told her how impressed we were with how he played (this is where she told me their top 4 o-linemen were injured) and how awesome Syracuse is. She told us how much they loved Coach Hackett and how Coach Hackett said big things are in store for Zach. They really seem to be genuinely excited about Syracuse.
At the end of the game the fans were going on the field to celebrate (not rushing the field, exactly, more like it was ok to come on the field if you feel like it). My brother and I tracked Zach down. He recognized us from pregame when we were screaming about Syracuse and thanked us for coming to see him. We congratulated him and told him how much we're looking forward to watching him at Syracuse. We shook his hand and he about crushed us with his grip. I can confidently say he's a legit 6'2". He's wiry strong and his listed weight of 185 seems about right. He also seems right out of central casting for "wholesome high school QB from the 1950's". He looked us right in the eye as we shook hands. Everything he said was, "yes sir", "thank you sir", "I can't wait either sir". There's only so much you can glean from a single, quick encounter, but he seems like a genuinely humble, hard working guy. There wasn't an ounce of entitlement or arrogance to how he carried himself. He was the star of the game, but he wasn't interested in the glory or the attention. He stayed on the edge of the postgame circle and didn't place himself in the middle of anything. Yet, in the game he wasn't afraid to get in the faces of his receivers. That tells me that he isn't afraid of being a leader.
Suffice it to say, I'm smitten. Take it will all the salt shakers that are necessary, but i think this kid will be a great player at Syracuse. I googled around a bit after the game and saw that Trent Dilfer said Allen reminded him of Colt McCoy but with a stronger arm. In watching him this game, that seems spot on to me. Like McCoy, Allen is mobile, but not a burner. I'd say Allen is maybe a step or two faster than Nassib. Like McCoy, Allen is accurate and excels at hitting receivers in stride and can keep plays alive with his feet. Obviously, positively comparing a somewhat under the radar recruit to one of the all time winningest college QB's is a bit foolish, as there are miles and miles of development ahead, but I do think the comparison is helpful when thinking of the kind of QB Allen can be.
I will say this - while I wouldn't consider it likely, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if Allen starts as a true freshman next year.