The Wolfpack have an interesting conundrum leading up to their 2023 campaign; who will be the starting quarterback?
The Wolfpack lost star quarterback Devin Leary, as he announced a transfer to Kentucky. Leary was an effective passer in 2021, throwing for 35 touchdowns and only five interceptions. His production dropped in 2022 prior to a shoulder injury, as he passed for 11 touchdowns and four interceptions in 6 games. His presence was at the heart of the Wolfpack offense, and replacing Leary will be a daunting task for new offensive coordinator Robert Anae.
The Wolfpack used multiple quarterbacks after Leary went down, including Ben Finley, younger brother of former Wolfpack and NFL quarterback Ryan Finley. Ben Finley did not light up the stat sheet but was able to lead the Wolfpack to an overtime win over the rival UNC Tarheels last Fall. However, after the Wolfpack 2023 Spring Game, Finley entered the transfer portal. He departed to Cal after it was clear that he was not in the running to win the NC State quarterback battle.
The Two Options At Quarterback
For the 2023 season, head coach Dave Doeren and offensive coordinator Robert Anae have two main competitors to win the starting position; Brennan Armstrong and MJ Morris.
Armstrong’s transfer from Virginia brings a veteran presence to this young Wolfpack team. However, he has mixed results and inconsistent success as a passer in the ACC. Armstrong struggled in 2022, where he passed for 2210 yards and threw seven touchdowns compared to his 12 interceptions. Despite this, he had an absolutely phenomenal season in 2021, passing for 4,449 yards and 31 touchdowns. He also tallied nine rushing touchdowns that season, and he has 20 rushing touchdowns in his collegiate career.
MJ Morris is a junior who sat behind Leary before stepping up sporadically after the injury. Morris showed flashes of talent at times, but he passed for only 648 yards in five games. He is not a risk taker throwing the football, as he threw for seven touchdowns on only one interception. Morris is a capable and physical runner, but this trait led to him getting injured near the end of the 2022 season.
Who Will Win the NC State Quarterback Battle?
Armstrong seems to be the favorite to be the Wolfpack signal caller going into the 2023 season. Anae was the offensive coordinator at Virginia during Armstrong’s strong 2021 season. Anae has had success with Armstrong at the helm and will have experience in the new offense. As a result, Armstrong seems to have an edge over the incumbent Morris.
Armstrong is a talented passer who has had success to varying degrees as a college quarterback. He showcases the ability to throw to all levels of the field and excelled in previous years under Anae. He is able to run with the football when plays break down or in short-yardage situations. Armstrong’s confidence heading into this year is another concern. Despite his experience and previous success, he will have to put aside a sluggish 2022 season to compete on this young Wolfpack team.
Morris is younger but is a much better runner than Armstrong. He also has been with the Wolfpack for multiple years and has built chemistry with the young offense. He has the tools to be a very good college quarterback. But they have not quite translated on the stat sheet. His size and physicality make him an effective runner, and his arm is capable of developing into one of the better passers in the ACC. Morris has to deal with his struggles of inconsistency as a passer to beat out Armstrong. His dynamic talent and physical attributes did not always translate to in-game success.
Armstrong will likely be number one on the depth chart when Fall camp opens in August. While the NC State quarterback battle remains in full swing, it would take a large jump from Morris if he wants to be the QB1. If Armstrong struggles early on, expect Anae to have a short leash before Morris gets an opportunity to surpass him.
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