Four different quarterbacks took turns at the helm of Fresno State’s offense last year and, between Zack Greenlee, Chason Virgil, Ford Childress and Kilton Anderson, the results weren’t pretty: A 50.1% completion rate, 178.3 passing yards per game, a paltry 5.3 yards per attempt, and 20 touchdowns against 16 interceptions. And that’s with the Bulldogs’ blowout against Hawaii. Remember those six touchdowns Zack Greenlee threw?
Injuries, ineffectiveness and youth all played equal parts in the passing attack’s disarray, and while there’s nothing that says history can’t repeat itself, three of the four return -- Greenlee transferred to UTEP — and many who follow the program closely, myself included, have their presumptions of how the situation will play itself out in August. The results are almost guaranteed to get better with the benefit of a year of experience and, at a minimum, the old dead cat bounce.
Which brings me to the latest news from campus.
The Bulldogs are trading a Zack for a Zach: Kline, the former Cal four-star blue-chipper who, as our colleagues at CaliforniaGoldenBlogs noted, drew comparisons to Chad Pennington at the time of his recruitment. SFGate.com’s Connor Letourneau added that Kline had been ranked second among pro-style quarterbacks in 2012, but he lost a competition with Jared Goff and never received the playing time to match his hype.
In a lot of respects, the move makes sense. As a former part of Jeff Tedford’s staff at Cal, Bulldogs offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau is familiar with the skills that brought Kline to Berkeley. Kilton Anderson is recovering from shoulder surgery and faces an uncertain timeline to return, according to the Fresno Bee’s Marek Warszawski, and Kline himself had a very hot hand in Cal’s spring game back in April, which he acknowledged, earlier this month, prompted his move:
Will always be grateful to the #CalFamily. Ready and excited for the next chapter. pic.twitter.com/Z3CQVJGxMm— Zach Kline (@zachklineQB) June 2, 2016
On the other hand, this leaves Fresno State as the only team in the nation to have two of the top six quarterbacks from the Class of 2012, according to 247Sports. That would’ve been more impressive in 2013. Or 2014. In 2015, Childress arrived in Fresno and didn’t have enough time to learn the offense and seize the starting role in fall camp. He’s also currently absent from player-organized workouts, according to Warszawski, which has the benefit of allowing Chason Virgil some room to grow with the offense on his own terms but casts some doubt on his own ability to grow into the role.
And none of this says anything of the other incoming quarterbacks, three-star recruit Quentin Davis and junior college transfer Christian Rossi, unlikely as it is that they actually see the field in 2016. Depending on the color of your glasses, it’s rosy — a wealth of pedigreed QBs unlike any other in the Mountain West — or muddy.
At the very least, adding Kline to the promising but volatile mix puts a tremendous amount of pressure on head coach Tim DeRuyter, already under a great deal of scrutiny after last year’s collapse, to not only identify the right man for the job, but to stick with him if there are early struggles and win now. Another quarterback shuffle is probably as good as a pink slip, albeit with a nicer buyout than most.