WKU Football: What Austin Reed as WKU’s Presumed Starter Means to the Tops
With Jarret Doege’s entrance into the Transfer Portal, UWF transfer Austin Reed is the foregone conclusion at WKU’s most important position battle.
Finally, we pretty much know who is going to replace Bailey Zappe.
As of writing this story’s publication, there has been no official announcement to make it #HeltonOfficial. However, after reports of Jarett Doege’s enrance in the transfer portal, the two-horse race in fall camp to see who will start under center would appear to be narrowed down to the top option: West Florida transfer Austin Reed.
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The Battle With Doege
It’s fascinating that its looking like the Tops’ QB1 ends up being Reed, because from the outside, he’s not really been mentioned.
Just days before Doege entered the portal, he was announced to the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award Watchlist and was getting the bigger NIL deals (Hanks Homes BG, for example).
Other factors led to assuming Doege would be the starter, too: he started the Spring Game, was always mentioned first when comparing the two quarterbacks, is the NCAA’s active statistical leader in passing and, maybe in the most basic analysis, the battle was that between a Power 5 QB and one coming from the Division II ranks..
Last week, I compared their styles to Ty Storey (Doege) and Bailey Zappe (Reed). Both would be great options, but certainly offer a different style of approach.
But here’s the thing about previous statistical indications: They don’t always mean jack crap, y’all. Mike White and Storey came in with very average stats at “better” schools and left atop or near the top of the record books.
So plenty of people commented or inferred that Doege didn’t have the best statistics. Yeah. Sure. But he also was a Power 5 school and started and had some success.
So it’s more a testament to Reed’s ability than Doege’s inability. Tyson Helton said it himself when he said, “We can win with both.” Doege is doing what is best for him: If he sits in 2022, he’s done as a collegiate QB. He might as well go where he can play, wherever that is. There are tons of places without a proven QB all across the FBS.
Hindsight is 20/20
Upon reflection, though, think about how this battle has gone, and I think it now makes sense that Reed could have been the better guy.
First of all, Doege was not consistently able to keep his job at WVU. Although he is the active NCAA leader in many statistical categories, it’s more of a volume thing than a gaudy numbers thing. Reed was the one with gaudy numbers and winning on his resume.
Sure, Reed comes from the NCAA’s Division II. So for a local comparison, playing at the University of West Florida would be like playing for Kentucky Wesleyan. Far off the radar, Reed was an interesting transfer prospect, but he was not a “Blue Chip” transfer prospect. And there’s good reason for that. He’s a Division II guy. The question is, “Can he translate?”
Bailey Zappe’s biggest question mark was his transition, but he was a little more surefire because he had done it against FBS opponents, lighting up Texas Tech and nearly winning with a much less talented cast at Houston Baptist. He also played on the FCS level, a distinctly higher level of college football than Division II.
So the Zappe comparisons are really enticing, especially because of the overwhelming response of teammates upon his announcement. It really seems like they believe in him, and with a potentially better defense overall, this could really be time to raise the ceiling on WKU football’s chances in 2022 and 2023 (Reed enters this season with two years of eligibility remaining).
Maybe the biggest note I missed about Reed was that he basically walked in and started Spring Ball. He had two fewer months to get acclimated to WKU and look like he knew what he was doing at the WKU Spring Game. However, Reed looked every bit as good as Doege, if we’re painting the past with a current brush.
Reshuffling the Depth Chart
With recent departures, it’s time to reevaluate the quarterback position. Keep in mind Chance McDonald is gone; Tyson Helton’s nephew, Turner Helton, recently hopped on; and, obviously, Doege said “deuces” to the Tops, as well. (ed. note - Doege is not officially off the Hilltoppers’ roster, and in fact is still listed on the team’s website, he has simply entered the transfer portal, which players are able to remove themselves from and remain on their current squad at any time.)
Assuming Doege actually departs the Hill, that leaves four quarterbacks on the roster likely in this order:
Reed is clearly now the starter barring awful setback. Doege was touted as his co-competitor, and Ocean and Veltkamp were presented as battling for the third and final travel spot. My guess is both of those two will likely travel (college football limits the number of players that can travel to away games). Typically, three quarterbacks are taken on road trips. So the third QB spot is reserved a lot of times for a standout true freshman who is unlikely to play but is also capable of doing something if the need arises.
I also want to address the thought that so many people seem to have that true freshmen can come in and start at QB. I really don’t think Caden Veltkamp sees the field unless he has to. I’m sorry, but that is exceedingly rare for a reason. It’s not prejudice and it’s not nepotism or whatever. Heck, his dad is the strength coach. But he still ain’t seeing the field. It has to do with QB being the most demanding position on the team, and it requires the most maturity. When you’re 18, you are almost never mature, and a couple of years’ growth is massive at these ages.
It’s much easier to earn playing time at certain positions, like running back and receiver. Those have to do with athleticism more than cognitive ability. A lot of positions on defense are more open spots for young guys, because defense is so much more about being physically able to get it done vs. offense is about out-positioning the defense.
Tight end, O-Line, and quarterback are tougher positions to play early in than others for different reasons. However, when you’re involved in it and understand what a coaching staff is looking for, it’s almost always just a rule that the old guy is better because he knows what he’s doing. And it’s a very good rule of thumb.
What Does Austin Reed Really Mean for the Tops?
I’ve been thinking about this, and first of all, beating out Doege really tells me something. Doege probably could have gone anywhere and been competitive for a starting spot. But the fact that he presumably outright lost to this guy speaks volumes.
As established, Reed is a D2 player that produced great numbers. Reed won 22 of the 25 games he played at UWF, totaling 7,507 passing yards and 88 touchdowns, using his legs for 10 of those scores.
So in addition to gaudy numbers, Reed is a dual-threat guy who won at his previous stop. There’s something to be said for being more than just a guy who can throw the ball. The lone question is, “Can he do it at this level?” By winning the job, it tells me the Tops believe he can win immediately at this level. Imagine having Bailey Zappe for two years. That’s what it could be like if he translates to this level of football successfully.
Western has not had a true dual-threat quarterback since Ty Storey, who was efficient but not massively productive. Before that, Kawaun Jakes was a true dual-threat, but again, was not the most accurate passer. Tyrrell Pigrome was not a threat through the air, but was a very good running the option. Bailey Zappe was more mobile than Mike White and Brandon Doughty, who were statues in the pocket, frankly, but Zappe shocked us all by simply having a positive amount of rushing yards. That’s the standard for rushing from the QB position at WKU. Imagine if Reed can throw for 300 yards per game and also contribute in the running game on a consistent basis?
It’s very possible he could be the best true dual-threat quarterback since Justin Haddix (2003-06), who accumulated 8,890 combined yards through a four-year career as starting QB for the Tops.
But when you think about it, WKU has not had a high-level passer that could move consistently that actually wanted to move. I believe Zappe could have been more of a dual threat, but he didn’t choose to run unless he had to. Reed is going to run several times per game with intention. That adds a whole extra layer to the equation, and it really opens WKU up to be able to win in multiple ways, which is something WKU has not had the luxury of in quite some time.
Now, let’s be realistic, as well. I’m not proclaiming Reed as “Doughty with legs” or “Zappe with two years.” But it’s worth noting: How good could Zappe have been with two years at WKU? What if Doughty or White could have run? What if Pigrome could have thrown the ball down the field accurately? What if Haddix had an even better arm? What if Willie Taggart could have thrown the ball at an elite level?
These are all questions Reed could potentially cause Western fans to ask the next two (hopefully) seasons
So again, what does he do for the Tops? I think he provides more potential than Doege, for sure. Doege was your “steady Eddie” option. He was going to be pretty good without much of an elite passer but also would not have been terrible. Reed could completely flounder in the FBS world, or he could just be so elite that he lights it up at whatever level.
Either way, given the recent news and developments and how this has turned out so far, I feel my expectations creeping back up to the nine or 10 win total.
We know WKU has a tough schedule. At Hawaii is no joke, just because of routine and distraction. At Indiana, an opponent WKU has yet to beat. At UTSA. At Middle. UAB. North Texas. At Charlotte. At Auburn. At FAU. All of those are potential land mines.
Until this week, I think the biggest question was how good the QBs can be. Sure, you lost DeAngelo Malone. Sure, you lost the punter. Sure, the offensive line will digress. But the one person who makes all of that wash away could be an excellent quarterback.
Now I think the most interesting question going forward is, “What is the weakness of this team?” Every position looks solid enough, and if I’m Tyson Helton, I’m salivating at the possibilities. A tough schedule might curtail the New Years Six talks just because of the volume of land mines, but WKU could easily go 9-4 in the regular season and return to the C-USA Championship Game, even flirting with repeating last year’s output. And frankly, if WKU has a good offense, perhaps the Tops could compete in every single game this season. None of the games on the schedule are impossible tasks: Auburn is down, IU is suspect, UAB is under a new head coach. Any conference team could beat another for the most part. Troy and Austin Peay should probably go WKU’s way.
Who is to say Western can’t? Shore up some issues and let’s see where the Tops fall. All indications are positive. Maybe WKU actually can keep the momentum and do something special in 2022. Now it just feels like the schedule is biggest obstacle instead of a lack of personnel.