The Star and The Slump

QBs Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy are on diverging sophomore paths

College Football Preview: Week 4

> The Red Zone  |  Tape It Up  |  Strike The Pose  |  Breaking The Code
> Amsinger: Picks  |  Sorenson: 10 Questions  |  Braff: Tebow Up, McCoy Down
> Hart: Behind Closed Doors  |  Curtis: Crystal Ball Blitz  |  Alberts: Blackshirt Blues  |  Worst BCS Conf.
> Williams: Michigan Barely Has A Chance  |  B.J.: An Open Letter To Karl Dorrell
> Caparell: Honest Steve Spurrier  |  Blackburn: Alridge About The Bling  |  Crystal Ball: Predictions

Sept. 18, 2007

By Carolyn Braff


Carolyn Braff

Carolyn is an assistant editor and writer for
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Sophomore performances separate the one-hit wonders from the superstars, the dated from the distinguished, and thus far, the Tim Tebows from the Colt McCoys.


A year in the system should improve the performance of any quarterback, right?




Tebow and McCoy entered the 2007 season in parallel form. Both 6-foot-3 signal-callers saw a lot of time as freshmen and were expected to lead their respective Top 10 teams to greatness as sophomores. Both were big-name producers who put on weight in the off-season -- far more important for the wiry 205-pound McCoy, who added 10 pounds to his frame, than for Tebow, who bulked up from 229 pounds to 235.




Both were also expected to be mobile in their sophomore campaigns, which is nothing new for Tebow, who averaged 5.3 yards per carry in 2006, but a whole new bag for McCoy.


Three weeks in, both may have their teams standing at 3-0, but while Tebow has been running circles around his competition, McCoy has been running for his life.


One big discrepancy between the two: the quarterback's ability to direct the offense.


"Last year, Tim was asked to come in for certain situations," said Dan Mullen, Florida's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. "He'd provide a change of pace when needed. This year, he is the director of the offense. He has to be able to go back to the huddle and manage the entire game."


And manage he has, leading Florida to three convincing wins, highlighted by last week's 59-20 punishing of Tennessee that came much easier than many expected. Tebow looked like a pro in that first SEC start, completing 74 percent of his passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns and running for 61 yards and two more scores.


McCoy's management has not been quite so effective.


"We're giving him more to do at the line of scrimmage in terms of protection and checks from run to pass and pass to pass," said Greg Davis, Texas' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. "The biggest difference [from last season] is that we're giving him more things to do."


Perhaps they're giving him too much to do. In three games, McCoy has thrown four touchdowns and five interceptions, after tossing only seven picks in all of 2006. (By comparison, Tebow has thrown eight touchdowns to just one interception.) The picks have come at costly times for the Longhorns and bring into question McCoy's ability to be the director on offense that Tebow has become.


Davis stressed the need for McCoy to work on getting to his third option on pass plays, which would keep him out of certain troublesome situations, but the bottom line remains that while Tebow has soared in his new starting role, McCoy has settled into his old post by settling for field goals.


Another big difference between the sophomores: the offensive line in front of them.


Last season, Texas' run game ranked 34th in the nation despite an outstanding offensive line. With three new faces up front, increasing McCoy's mobility was supposed to take some pressure off of the run game, and to some extent, it has -- McCoy is second on the team in rushing, gaining 85 yards on 22 carries for a 3.9 yard-per-attempt average, a significant improvement on last year's 2.5 yard-per-carry mark.


By comparison, the veterans outnumber the newcomers on the offensive line in Florida, where the run game looks superb behind Tebow's 4.5 yards-per-carry. The Gators' rush attack ranks No. 15 in the nation, while Texas' run game is swimming in murkier waters at No. 46, despite three 100-plus-yard performances in as many outings by running back Jamaal Charles.


A solid offensive line means more time in the pocket to get to that third choice on pass plays, a luxury McCoy has not had. But the young line was a well-known weakness since January, and McCoy had ample time to work with his lineman on protection schemes and signals. He cannot blame five interceptions on the offensive line.


The biggest difference between the two quarterbacks: success in the red zone.


While Florida is a near-perfect 20-of-21 in red zone scoring, Texas has struggled mightily inside the 20. Converting just 9-of-13 red zone opportunities this season, the Longhorns have turned only four of those 13 trips into touchdowns. While McCoy is struggling to put the ball in the end zone, Tebow is shining, scoring touchdowns on 18 of his 21 opportunities.


Granted, Texas has lost wide receivers Billy Pittman and Limas Sweed to injury, but Florida is playing without Andre Caldwell, so those excuses cancel. Red zone effectiveness lives and dies on the man under center, and Tebow is playing like the man McCoy hopes to become.


"One thing with Tim is that he wants to be a great quarterback," Mullen said. "All of his focus is on being a great quarterback with great fundamentals and a great passer."

You don't get that urgency for self-improvement in McCoy's remarks.


"I haven't played as well as I should and I think a lot of guys would say the same thing," McCoy said. "Other teams are putting a lot of pressure on us, dropping a lot of guys back on passing downs, so we've just got to handle that better than we have. The consistency needs to come."


A good deal of that inconsistency, Colt, lies with you.


Not to say that McCoy should take the full brunt of the blame for his team's lackluster performances thus far, but the rookie mistakes that McCoy never had as a rookie should not be so poignant in his sophomore year. Despite injuries, including losing the most senior member of the offensive line, Tebow has risen to the occasion, leading his Gators to three solid wins and carrying the team on his broad shoulders.


McCoy seems to be ducking the heat his team has taken after three unimpressive victories over three (arguably) weaker opponents. With a 66.9-percent completion rate, some of McCoy's numbers suggest an impressive start to the season, but watching complete games and comparing them to Tebow's leaves much to be desired.


Blame it on the line, blame it on the receivers, blame it where you will -- but with Tebow as the standard of sophomore success, McCoy has clearly hit a sophomore slump.