Austin Wilson or Zack Mahoney? It is the quarterback controversy no one wanted, but a question we may soon have to answer nonetheless.
Syracuse football coach Dino Babers had the opportunity to provide some sort of clarity into the dilemma at quarterback when he addressed the media on Monday. Instead, Babers only furthered the uncertainty surrounding the most important position by offering no real insight regarding the health of starting quarterback Eric Dungey and listing both Wilson and Mahoney as co-backups.
As of right now, any of the three could potentially start at quarterback for Syracuse when the Orange take on NC State this Saturday. Of course, if Dungey is healthy, the sophomore quarterback will dispel any sort of controversy and take his normal spot behind center.
However, if Dungey isn’t able to play, then things start to get a little interesting.
Prior to Saturday’s blowout loss to Clemson, Mahoney had been the presumed backup, after being listed as such on the weekly two-man depth chart since week one. However, when Dungey was forced out of action on Saturday after suffering a hard hit to the head in the final minutes of the first quarter, it was Wilson – not Mahoney – who entered the game and replaced Dungey in the huddle.
Due to Dungey’s uncertain health, and Wilson’s poor performance against Clemson, we’re now forced to ask the question: If Dungey can’t go, who should start at quarterback for Syracuse – Austin Wilson or Zack Mahoney?
Austin Wilson: The Ugly Duckling We Need
Sometimes you don’t have to be prettiest girl/guy at the bar, you just have to be the only girl/guy at the bar – as is the case with Austin Wilson.
Let’s not kid ourselves, Wilson’s final stats line on Saturday was anything but pretty: Wilson completed 17-of-27 passes for 116 yards and two interceptions with no touchdowns. However, if you take a closer look at those numbers, and the game tape, there are some brief flashes of not-so-awfulness (and yes, that’s the standard of quarterback play we are now forced to accept).
First, Wilson finished the afternoon completing nearly 63 percent of his passes – something the oft-inaccurate Mahoney has never done in his Syracuse career (minimum of seven attempts).
Secondly, while Wilson finished the game with two interceptions, one of them was a fluke pick that was deflected by multiple players – including Syracuse lineman Aaron Roberts’ left foot – before somehow bouncing into the arms of a Clemson defender and returned for a touchdown.
Third, while Wilson’s overall career numbers aren’t that inspiring either, he also has never had the luxury before of playing in an offense as passer-friendly as Babers’. It should be no secret now, but Babers’ offense is one that heavily features the passing game.
Last season, Dungey threw the ball more than 30 times in a game just once. Prior to Saturday, Dungey averaged more than 43 passes per game this season and surpassed 50 pass attempts on three separate occasions.
Mahoney, who is more of a dual-threat quarterback than a pocket passer, may be the fan favorite of the two backup quarterbacks, but he doesn’t have the arm strength nor the accuracy to succeed in Babers’ offense.
Wilson, a pro-style quarterback, may not have shown it against Clemson’s top defense, but he does posses exceptional arm strength and is a much more accurate passer than Mahoney. It was those same appealing traits that made Wilson a three-star prospect, according to 247Sports, while Mahoney was a sixth-string walk-on to open up preseason last year.
And while Mahoney somehow maneuvered his way up the ladder like a sleazy Frank Underwood into eventually becoming Syracuse’s starter, just like Underwood (or basically any politician), that false hope he provided while "leading" the Orange was a complete and utter facade.
Mahoney is like a repressed memory you eventually spin into a positive light as the years go on, simply because it’s easier to do so. We remember Mahoney for "leading" Syracuse to closes losses against LSU and Clemson, but somehow we conveniently forget – or just flat-out ignore – the fact he completed just 42.1 percent of his passes against LSU and only 38.1 percent of his passes against Clemson.
While Mahoney has shown some signs of improvement as a passer since then, he is still nowhere near the standard that a Babers’ offense requires. And with less than a week until NC State, there isn’t enough time to completely revamp the offense to accompany Mahoney’s strengths as a dual-threat quarterback.
Sometimes the best option isn’t always the sexiest, but that doesn’t mean it still isn’t the best option.
#MahoneyMania: It’s Time to Start 'The Officer'
I saw the tape. You saw the tape. We all saw the tape. Austin Wilson is not fit to be a collegiate quarterback, let alone the starting quarterback for the Syracuse Orange. If that wasn’t made clear before, it’s definitely clear now.
Wilson may have finished the game completing more than 60 percent of his passes, but how many of those completed passes actually sailed further than five yards? Four? Five? I’m genuinely asking because it was so ugly to watch I chucked my remote across the room at the TV (ironically it DID sail more than five yards).
Wilson may be known for having an impressive arm, but he sure didn’t showcase it on Saturday, averaging a measly 4.3 yards per attempt.
Hold on, let’s be nice, maybe he just had a bad day against a really good Clemson team. I mean, that’s understandable, Clemson is arguably the best team in college football (not named Alabama).
Let’s give Wilson the benefit of the doubt and take a look at his previous appearances. Including the Clemson outing, Wilson has completed 49-of-85 passes, a 57.6 completion percentage, for 418 yards and one touchdown. He has also thrown seven interceptions and averages less than five yards per attempt.
If Wilson is supposed to be a "pro-style quarterback", he must be attempting to emulate Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith, because he sure likes more like a turnover-prone nightmare than a three-star recruit.
Now, Mahoney may have been a walk-on, but you know who else was a walk-on? RILEY MOTHER F*****G DIXON! Dixon went from becoming a walk-on to a starting punter in the NFL, so do you really want to use the label of a "walk-on" against Mahoney?
Obviously, Mahoney won’t make the same leap as the legendary Riley Dixon, but he’s shown enough to prove he’s at least the best option to back-up Dungey.
First, he led a ragtag group of misfits to near upset wins over No. 8 LSU and No. 1 Clemson last season, losing both games by just 10 points, respectively. That alone shows Mahoney has the mental strength to keep his composure under extremely stressful situations.
Second, while Mahoney may not have been the most accurate passer in either game, he was still able to use his play-making ability to score five total touchdowns, three via the air and two on the ground, while turning the ball over just once on an interception. In his entire career, Mahoney has totaled nine touchdowns to just two interceptions.
Third, Mahoney offers another facet to his game that defenses will have to game-plan for – his ability to run the ball. In his two most impressive starts against LSU and Clemson last season, Mahoney ran a combined 17 times for a 116 yards, averaging 6.8 yards per carry, and two touchdowns. While Babers prefers his quarterback to remain in the pocket and pass the ball, he also isn’t against his quarterback taking off and running with it if an open lane presents itself.
We’ve (repeatedly) seen what little Austin Wilson can do, it’s time to unleash #MahoneyMania!
You’ve read both arguments. You’ve seen tape of both players. Now it’s time to weigh in. If Dungey isn’t healthy enough to play Saturday, who do you think should start at quarterback for Syracuse: Austin Wilson or Zack Mahoney? Vote below.