Envisioning Trevor Knight and Joshua Dobbs taking part in a quarterback duel a few years ago might have seemed ridiculous, but both have suddenly established themselves as among the best quarterbacks in the conference.
Both will need to perform at the highest level on Saturday afternoon as Tennessee travels to play Texas A&M in College Station, Texas. Two other SEC quarterbacks will also need to take advantage of this weekend’s opportunities to re-establish themselves and their teams in the national pecking order.
Here are four quarterbacks with the toughest tasks in Week 5.
Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee
Season stats: 77-133 for 1,035 yards, 13 TDs, 6 INTs; 65 for 267 yards, 5 TDs
Has any team been more blessed than Tennessee this year? The last time the ball left Dobbs’ hand, it sailed right to Jauan Jennings for an improbable Hail Mary to beat Georgia in Athens, Ga. That’s only weeks after Dobbs fumbled the ball in the end zone during an overtime game against Appalachian State, only to have Jalen Hurd jump on the ball for a Volunteer win.
With wins over Georgia and Florida, the two toughest opponents in the division, the SEC East crown is close to being locked up. Even if the Volunteers were to lose the next two weeks against Texas A&M and Alabama, a 6-2 conference record with a tiebreak would still likely be enough to hang on. However, this is a chance for the Volunteers to prove they are not just a division contender, but a worthy foe for Alabama and a national title contender.
Defensive end Myles Garrett is expected to be back for Texas A&M. He will combine with defensive tackle Daylon Mack and defensive end Daeshon Hall to form a terrifying defensive line. Linebacker Shaan Washington has also been one of the biggest surprises of the season. The onus will be on Dobbs to throw the ball accurately and effectively. Any miscues and Texas A&M’s opportunistic secondary could take advantage.
Austin Allen, Arkansas
Season stats: 94-139 for 1,232 yards, 12 TDs, 2 INTs
Allen has performed at a shockingly high level for a first-year starter. He is drawing comparisons to the performance of his brother, Brandon, from a season ago. If he can keep this pace up, Allen is already on the cusp of matching his brother’s gaudy senior season — one of the best ever posted by an Arkansas quarterback.
Allen was tested against Texas A&M in Week 4, but the rest of the schedule has been surprisingly light defensively. A road matchup against TCU was expected to challenge him, but the Horned Frogs have struggled to defend the pass this season. Alabama will be a completely different level of performance.
Defensive end Jonathan Allen has barreled through the line for four sacks and a fumble recovery touchdown to this point, while linebacker Reuben Foster paces the SEC with 35 tackles. The secondary might be the best in the nation because of star safety Eddie Jackson and elite cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Austin Allen will have his work cut out to withstand a consistent and methodical attack.
Sean White, Auburn
Season stats: 78-114 for 983 yards, 5 TDs, INT
Five games into the season, the results are clear: Auburn goes as its starting quarterback goes. The sophomore has thrown for at least 230 yards in every win, completed 75.7 percent of his passes and averaged 10.9 yards per attempt. However, he is completing just 58.3 percent of passes and averaging 5.5 yards per attempt in losses to Texas A&M and Clemson.
Granted, Auburn played what Massey rates as the No. 9 schedule in the nation to this point, including games against No. 3 Clemson and No. 8 Texas A&M. However, the disparity in results is completely evident by looking at the numbers.
Facing off against Mississippi State will be a chance for White to put the inconsistent play behind him and excel against an inconsistent pass defense. However, he will have to keep the offense balanced against a team that can move the ball effectively.
Trevor Knight, Texas A&M
Stats: 98-181 for 1,261 yards, 7 TDs, 3 INTs; 50 carries for 392 yards, 6 TDs
Perhaps the greatest gift Knight has given to Kevin Sumlin is his inability to carry out the Aggies’ traditional game plan. Sumlin typically runs air raid-style offenses with gaudy passing numbers and wide sets for receivers. Knight doesn’t have the most consistent arm, but his running ability has been a godsend to a team that hasn’t averaged 5.0 yards per rush since Johnny Manziel left College Station.
However, this will be Knight’s greatest test yet with the Aggies. Even though Tennessee linebackers Darrin Kirland and Jalen Reeves-Maybin are out, the Volunteers have the best defense Texas A&M has faced to this point. Defensive end Derek Barnett has All-American potential after a monster start to the season with 8.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.
Knight will need to spread the field with his arm consistently and withstand the dominant Tennessee defensive line, which could tear apart a young Texas A&M offensive line.