For the second time in three seasons, Rutgers added a graduate transfer to the quarterback room with Power Five starting experience. The first one was Kyle Bolin from Louisville in 2017 who had lost his starting job to eventual Heisman winner and NFL 1st round draft pick, Lamar Jackson. This time it’s former Texas Tech starter McLane Carter, recovering from ankle surgery, who joins the Scarlet Knights in his final season of eligibility after a new Red Raider coaching staff will go to battle with younger options. It’s odd that both entered a Rutgers program with an incumbent starter on the roster, yet became front runners as an immediate replacement.
Out of High School Bolin was a four star prospect, the 4th ranked player in the state of Kentucky and spurned his hometown Lexington Wildcats for a Cardinals jersey. Carter had a less direct route, spending time at Incarnate Word, then Tyler Junior College before ending up in Lubbock with the Big 12’s Red Raiders. Let’s compare both players and the situations they inherited with the Scarlet Knights.
NOTE: Even before Carter’s addition, this series of articles was already in development, so expect to see entries featuring other Rutgers signal callers in the coming weeks.
#1 Unlike Carter, Bolin played in a “similar system” at his previous stop.
Bolin joined a Louisville team in the final year of the Charlie Strong coaching staff before they took the show to Austin, Texas. In 2014, Bobby Petrino returned to the Louisville sideline and the playbook was not ideal for Bolin. A comparison on Petrino’s scheme compared to the previous Offensive Coordinator shows that both were pro-style. Petrino’s was very close to what Jerry Kill ran in 2017, relying heavily on the H-back and tight ends.
As mentioned in my article on Carter and aided with a video at the end of it, we know McLane comes from an Air Raid offense which is viewed as the cutting edge of football philosophy in 2019. This is the reason despite their 5-7 record in 2018, Texas Tech Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury was named to the same position for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals. An Air Raid is obviously very passing-centric, but there are four general schools. The Hal Mumme, Mike Leach Air Raid has moved with Kingsbury to be closer to the pro-style spread that has two backs.
So, Bolin played in more of a pro-style system, but with Rutgers offensive coordinator John McNulty trying to get Isaih Pacheco and Raheem Blackshear at the same we should see RU move closer toward a pro-style spread. Without an imposing offensive line, tight end depth, or downfield receiving threats, the Scarlet Knights need to “use spacing, tempo, and options to augment both pro-style run and pass concepts in a balanced attack”. VERDICT: FACT, though not as a big a difference as it’s being made out to be.
#2 Both players were considered “good ball handlers” at previous stop.
This term is often used when a quarterback has intangible skills and doesn’t possess a big arm. It’s kind of like assuming a player must be quick if he is small. Tom Brady is a great ball handler, but no one talks about that (unless they are deflated) because in the grand scheme of football his downfield passing, leadership, clutch skills, etc are the ones that make the headlines.
For Bolin, this means that he was not sloppy with the ball. He didn’t fumble, had pretty good hands, completed handoffs fundamentally in a pro-set, and his offense rarely ended up in chaotic situations with the ball being batted around the turf. Kyle still threw interceptions at both stops, including six at RU to just three touchdowns.
There’s a lot less overall tape on Carter, but you see a lot more different skills. He started the 2017 and 2018 season finales in an offense that utilized a righty all season, but there were no slip ups with him being a lefty. More importantly, the Red Raiders had a lot of players with motion in the backfield, wing backs coming through, counter action, etc so he had a lot of responsibility to execute this movement. Throw in the wrinkle that some of these plays were quarterback option runs, RPOs, and McLane did a few designed rollouts and you have a guy who should be able to command the pocket even in traffic.
Bolin was not a bad ball handler, but Carter brings a lot more to the table in this area which should help McNulty re-add the motion like he wants to do. VERDICT: Edge Carter.
#3 Bolin had better protection in his previous stop than Carter.
Louisville’s offensive line really wasn’t good when Bolin was there, but they were more than capable of keeping quarterbacks upright against the lesser ACC teams. When watching both Bolin and Lamar Jackson, there were a lot of situations where I think they both set protections wrong and a free rusher would come through. So when facing the better teams in their conference or other Power Five teams, opponents would not blitz but instead rely on coverage sacks. Since Bolin didn’t want to leave the pocket and was generally ineffective on the run, it made sense to replace him with Jackson who forced the defense to account for him running and bought time for receivers to get open downfield after their initial routes in schoolyard situations. The Rutgers offensive line Bolin played behind really was not that bad in 2017. They were able to get some push in the run game which reduced all-out pass rushing, and also kept Bolin upright for the most part if the defense rushed four or five.
Texas Tech’s offensive line was porous at times in 2018. There are plenty of plays where free rushers come through simply because a lineman lost his 1-on-1 battle and that’s one of the reasons all their quarterbacks got hurt multiple times last year. McLane showed pretty good pocket presence and enough mobility to extend plays a little bit. He’s not fast, but was able to make some plays as long as the entire pocket didn’t collapse.
I think the current Rutgers offensive line is in the same neighborhood as the Red Raiders if not better even with the losses of Tariq Cole and Jonah Jackson. One key difference is that Kamaal Seymour’s role at right tackle becomes even more critical since he has struggled against wide pass rushing techniques and would be protecting Carter’s blind side. Even if the Rutgers line is better than a lot of people think and McLane can do his part with protections, the Big Ten defensive lines are much better than the Big 12, too. VERDICT: FACT. The Red Raiders let several QBs get hit a lot (at minimal fault of the QB), including McLane.
#4 Both players have good accuracy on short and intermediate throws.
Coming into a situation at Rutgers where the team had finished 2-10 in Chris Ash’s first season without winning a Big Ten game, Bolin demonstrated immediate leadership and was named a team captain despite missing spring practice. So we thought Kyle would be able to generate a rhythm on short, timing routes. We also thought he’d be a reliable enough thrower of intermediate distances to work in tandem with the running game that included two future NFL backs, Gus Edwards and Robert Martin. This did not happen, the main reason was the lack of receivers who could defeat press coverage. Then not having a deep threat to attract safeties compounded the problem as did Bolin’s inability to get outside the pocket to extend plays long enough for wideouts not named Janarion Grant to eventually get open. Once Giovanni Rescigno was inserted, that was the reason RU won three Big Ten games.
Again, there is a smaller set of film on McLane in limited action, but he is very accurate on those touch passes for starters. Screen passes and quick slants need to be right on the money, which he executed well. When his primary target was not immediately open, Carter was up and down at accurately finding his second or third reads. Sometimes (but not all) he would lock onto his primary guy, other times he would deliver the ball without enough juice to a secondary guy, yet still others he was able to get outside the pocket and allow his receivers time to get open then deliver a nice ball. Other than that one beautiful throw on the run in a 4th and 7 situation, McLane is not accurate with enough power to make other plays without setting his feet. Much like Johnny Langan in the spring game, McLane has to get back on platform to complete most of these balls. Unlike Langan who needs to set to be accurate, Carter needs to set to get velocity.
The comparison is still not perfect, but I can see that both players are in the same ballpark when it comes to their throwing. Neither Bolin nor Carter can get much mustard on the ball when they are off platform, but when they set their feet the ball comes out pretty accurately to the first two levels.
If you had a great team around him, including a stout offensive line that would allow Bolin to stay in the pocket, he’s probably the better thrower. That said, Bolin really didn’t come near the expectations in this area once he arrived at Rutgers, so it’s possible the same will be true for Carter. Since he is better equipped to handle less than ideal situations, I’ll give McLane the benefit of the doubt. VERDICT: Edge Carter.
#5 Both players arrive to significantly less talent than previous stops.
This coupled with number three above is my biggest reason to feel some level of optimism for McLane joining the Scarlet Knights. Bolin had two 300 yard passing games in 2014 as a redshirt freshman, the second of which was in a bowl game. Then Kyle had another in 2015 as a redshirt freshman with the Cardinals. He was nothing close to that level at Rutgers. Bolin’s highest passing yardage total was 198 in the loss to Eastern Michigan when he was just 17-37 with 2 INT and 0 TD.
What was different? From Bolin’s Louisville highlights, there were a lot of players where he threw up 50-50 balls that were caught by his team. The 2017 Rutgers team he joined had really only one guy who had the size to make those plays in traffic and that player, Jerome Washington, did not have the leaping ability to go up for jump balls. Dacoven Bailey won one of these against the Washington Huskies for a touchdown in the season opener, but we can probably count on one hand the number of athletic 50-50 ball wins we saw the rest of that season. Louisville’s offensive line was not great (one reason they had to switch to the mobile Jackson), but Bolin knew how to throw 50-50 balls FROM the pocket. So these came in two flavors 1. If the defense blitzed, Cardinals receivers had the skills to defeat press coverage and run to an area of open space. 2. If defenses played coverage, Bolin preferred staying in the pocket which eventually resulted in pressure and limited his options when if he scrambled, his receivers had the skills to get open.
Note I didn’t specifically call out “Offensive talent” because having a defense certainly helps. Louisville went 8-5 and 9-4 in Bolin’s final two seasons there without a ton of shootouts. Their defense put the offense in a position where they didn’t have to score every single possession.
Looking at Texas Tech, the opposite was true a lot. Their defense was typical for the Big 12 surrendering a lot of points, especially in warm weather. The Red Raider offensive line is not as good as the other Texas schools. In terms of skill positions, the Red Raiders had three excellent receivers but not much else. And those three receivers fed off one another so that collectively boosted their production. How much of that success was because of the quarterbacks, a job that Carter won coming out of training camp?
One thing obvious in the NFL is that quarterbacks who were never hit in college struggle at first and some never recover. The same is true if signal callers are all of a sudden getting hit in college. Rutgers needs a go to receiver, but the rest of the roster isn’t that far behind lower Power Five squads. VERDICT: False. Rutgers is not that far off from Texas Tech in terms of talent.
Though it didn’t work out, bringing in Kyle Bolin was ABSOLUTELY the right idea at the time. Adding McLane Carter is an equally low-risk, high reward addition. I applaud Chris Ash for identifying his team’s biggest weaknesses and giving an effort each off-season to try and improve them, like bringing in these quarterbacks, and now a tight end last minute. It hasn’t always worked out, but Ash is not just sitting there hoping things just improve naturally other than allowing the program to finally have the same offensive coordinator two years in a row.
To say McLane Carter is just another Kyle Bolin is really not true. Both players are limited, but what encourages me is that Carter possesses more skills that translate to a team fighting to get out of the cellar of their conference. McLane brings energy, ability to deal with a lot of moving parts in an offense, the ability to buy time when his teammates won’t be open exactly how you draw it up, and experience facing pressure. At the very least he pushes the rest of the quarterback room even if he gets hurt and the scholarship opens back up in the 2020 cycle. At best, he guts out a few wins like Gio did and helps Rutgers start trending in the right direction as a program again.
Do you agree? Let us know in the comments section below.