Football

Hunt, Allen still seeing equal reps as camp nears end

All the numbers tell the story. In Syracuse’s scrimmage in Fort Drum, N.Y., on Thursday, Drew Allen completed 10-of-18 passes. Terrel Hunt went 9-for-17.

They split drives with the first team evenly, just as they have during practice all summer. One has gotten 131 reps with the first team. The other has gotten 129.

When quarterbacks coach Tim Lester charts the number of completions they’re eerily similar. One day it was 62-61. Another it was 63-62, and one more was 60-59.

“It’s dangerously close, which is good,” Lester said. “It’s a great situation to be in. People ask me when we’re going to know, I say before kickoff would be a good time to know.”

Head coach Scott Shafer said the same on Monday. ESPN reported that the Orange was one of four teams that wouldn’t announce its starter until the day of its first game that morning. In the afternoon, Shafer confirmed that report.

“We don’t have to play until the 31st,” Shafer said, “so the final decision won’t truly be made until we step on that field.”

It makes sense from Shafer’s point of view — why give Penn State an advantage when the starter can be kept a secret? Plus, the competition is simply impossible to decide right now.

Shafer wouldn’t say when he plans to have a decision ready internally. Both Lester and offensive coordinator George McDonald said it’s all up to Shafer. Whoever Shafer names the starting guy, “that’s the guy that will take the first snap,” McDonald said.

With looser limitations on practice time during training camp, it’s given SU extra time to make its decision. There’s no 20-hour limit and the team has almost a full month of practice leading up to the first game of the season.

Each quarterback can prepare enough with the first team and treat the weeks leading up to the opener as if he’s the starting quarterback. Even a transfer, Allen, and a quarterback who’s never thrown a pass, Hunt, have commanded the respect of their teammates.

“The one thing that’s been pleasantly surprising,” McDonald said, “is that the offense and the guys around them support both of them.”

The offense also won’t change much no matter who lines up behind center. Hunt is known more for his playmaking ability with his feet — it was his trademark in high school — but he’s worked to make more plays with his arm. Allen has a cannon, but he’s also shown the ability to run around and make plays.

“The quarterbacks are more similar than what a lot of people would think,” McDonald said.

So he wouldn’t rule out using a platoon of quarterbacks. With Allen and Hunt almost unbelievably close, it seems that the coaching staff would be fine sending either one out to take the first snaps against the Nittany Lions.

But McDonald did say that he wants to give whichever quarterback starts some wiggle room. He wouldn’t want athletic director Daryl Gross yanking him out of the press box after one bad play call, so he won’t do the same with his quarterback after one bad pass. The coaches will simply play the quarterback that gives Syracuse the best chance to win.

“If it takes us playing five quarterbacks to win a game, we’ll play five quarterbacks,” McDonald said. “If it takes us throwing it 60 times, we’ll throw it 60 times, but I think at the end of the day the bottom result is to put the best player out there to win.”

Shafer said on Monday that they’re starting to see a little bit of separation, but nothing significant, so Lester is doing everything he can to find even the subtlest differences.

Lester grades each quarterback’s feet on every drop. Then he grades their timing when their feet are right. And then he tracks their completion percentage when their timing is right or when it’s off.

He’s even started recording the audio of both quarterbacks when they’re calling plays in the huddle. It has nothing to do with their skills on the field, but illustrates their confidence and command of the offense.

“That’s how close it is,” Lester said. “We can really get into the details.”

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