If you were looking for a quarterback controversy, this isn’t the story of the season for you. Eli Drinkwitz made it clear at SEC Media Day on Thursday that Connor Bazelak enters the 2021 season as the entrenched starter for the Tigers.
There shouldn’t have been much of a question to begin with. Bazelak was named the co-SEC freshman of the year, an award voted by the league’s coaches. He won five of his first six starts and finished the season completing more than two-thirds of his passes for more than 235 passing yards per game.
That earns you the starting nod, even with 2020 4-star quarterback recruit Tyler Macon now on campus.
“We have a proven commodity at the quarterback position,” Drinkwitz said. “We’ve added some playmakers around (Bazelak). Mookie Cooper is a guy we’re excited about to go along with Keke Chism and Tauskie Dove.”
“Watch out for Tauskie Dove, man,” Case Cook said. “The work he’s put in over the offseason.. Watch out. That’s all I’m going to say.”
The improved playmakers combined with the trust Bazelak has earned should help boost his statistical production. Bazelak put up solid passing yardage, but where he lacked was red zone production. He threw a touchdown on just two percent of his pass attempts. He didn’t throw a touchdown in seven of his 10 games.
Some of that was by design. Running the ball is a low risk proposition. There are just fewer things that can go wrong on any given play, and the upside is there when you have a running back like Larry Rountree III.
The result was a lot of conservative play-calling near the goal line. That helped Rountree rack up 14 touchdowns in 10 games, but it also put a cap on Bazelak’s production.
I would expect that to change a bit in 2021.
“You take the training wheels off when someone proves they’re capable of making plays not only by their work ethic but also from their film study and their ability to take care of the football,” Drinkwitz said. “For us to become the best versions of ourselves, we’re going to have to continue to push the envelope as an offense and at the quarterback position.”
Bazelak isn’t perfect. He still has areas to improve, as any young quarterback would. The explosive plays, for example, were lacking in his first year as a starter. He’s going to have to take more chances in year two, even if those chances lead to more mistakes.
Regardless of what year two holds for Bazelak, he’s clearly earned the trust of his coaches and teammates. There is no quarterback competition this year. Bazelak is QB1, and everyone seems pretty excited to find out what that means for the Tigers in 2021.
“Getting a year being the guy, it’s really apparent this offseason that you’ve seen him fill that role,” Cook said. “He’s really started pushing guys. He’s bringing guys in for extra work. He’s been the leader. It’s awesome.”