Photo by Makayla Puckett.
Going into the fall season, there will be heavy competition between the two players aiming to become the starting quarterback for 2019.
Redshirt junior quarterback Jack Abraham has all eyes on him for starter. Coming off a stellar performance last season, Abraham was recently nominated for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, ranked fourth in completions per game and ranked third in completions by Pro Football Focus. Last season, Abraham went 223-305, with a completion rate of 73.1%.
“Going into the offseason, my focus was to study film and correct any mistakes made from last season,” Abraham said.
Although Abraham is entering this season under new offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner, he said the transition has not been as difficult as he had expected.
“It’s always a challenge to have a new coach come in, but coach Faulkner has been amazing,” Abraham said. “He’s a great coach and a great football mind. I’ve learned a lot under him so far. The transition really wasn’t terrible. It’s just been a learning process trying to learn all the new playbook.”
Despite Abraham’s successes, the position of starting quarterback is not set in stone. True sophomore quarterback Tate Whatley has shown that he can keep up with some of the best talent the NCAA has to offer.
Whatley played six games last season, three of which he started after Abraham came down with an injury. In those six games, Whatley ran the ball 66 times, picking up 162 yards and three rushing touchdowns. He also went 42 for 75 in passing yards, picking up 451 yards and four touchdowns.
“My focus going into this season is to continue to be smart with the ball and learn situations. [I need to] learn when to throw it away and when to not force passes to covered receivers,” Whatley said.
Faulkner and head coach Jay Hopson are on the same page when it comes to their plans for running the offense. They agreed that the team needs to have a balanced attack in both running and passing the ball.
When comparing the two quarterbacks, Faulkner praised both of their leadership abilities alongside their technical skills.
“They are both cerebral, smart and great leaders on the field. Jack is more of your pocket passer, and Tate is more of your playmaker, which are great options to have. Overall, their ability to play the position is very similar, which makes it easier on the rest of the offense to play around when either one is on the field,” Faulkner said.
Hopson was also pleased with the amount of talent and depth at every position on the roster for his team.
“There’s a lot of great talent, especially at our ones and twos in every aspect of our game,” Hopson said. “At this point of camp, there are many fighting opportunities to earn a starting role on this team. Jack has looked great all offseason, but Tate has shown that he can step up when under the bright lights.”
Hopson went on to comment on the competition between Abraham and Whatley for the starting position.
“I like to see a good competition. We will let this one roll out and see who will rise to the top by the time the first game of the season comes around,” Hopson said.
Both quarterbacks are excited to begin playing this season, and they have similar goals when it comes to their view of how the season will turn out.
“I think we are C-USA Championship material for sure, we don’t want anything less,” Abraham said.
Abraham mentioned his anticipation for the SEC games.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun. That’s something Southern Miss has always prided itself in, you know, going into Alabama or Mississippi State and beating them 20 or 30 years ago with Brett Favre and Reggie Collier. That’s something Coach Hop wants to get back to, and I would love to get that tradition going back,” Abraham said.
For Whatley, getting back to the Southern Miss standard of a winning program is a must, and he believes the team has what it takes to be successful.
“Just win. Do what it takes no matter what to be the better team. It’s simple,” Whatley said.
“The team has been doing great,” Whatley said. “All summer we have been studying and just working together to get our timing down, our series. O Line has been working their tail off. Coach really gave us a great system to work in so learning hasn’t been that tough. Coach really sets us up for success.”
Both Abraham and Whatley have full confidence in the coaching staff to make the right decision by the first game Aug. 31 against Alcorn State. Will the starter be the pocket passer, Jack Abraham, or will it be the playmaker, Tate Whatley?
Sports Editor Makayla Puckett contributed to this story.