CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – For three years, Mitch Trubisky competed at the quarterback position, logging as many reps as he could manage and battling veterans such as Bryn Renner and Marquise Williams for playing time. He knew his time was coming, and as Larry Fedora told the ACC media in July, that time had finally arrived.
All that remained was to see if the Mentor, Ohio product could transfer his training and preparation in practice to live game situations. Trubisky has done just that, completing 71.2 percent of his passes for 2,378 yards and 18 touchdowns against two interceptions. Remove the asterisk of the hurricane game against Virginia Tech and the junior signal caller is completing 75.4 percent of his passes without an interception.
Those statistics fail to explain the magnitude of Trubisky’s play in the clutch, whether it be in late-game situations (fourth-quarter comebacks against Pitt and Florida State) and staff-described “critical situations” such as 3rd-and-long (25-of-45 passing, 18 first downs). The eyes that matter, however, have seen that production.
Last week, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper declared Trubisky as the top signal-caller in the country and ranked him as the top quarterback prospect for the 2017 NFL Draft. This week Trubisky was named a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, which goes to the nation’s top quarterback, and a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award, which goes to the collegiate player of the year.
Trubisky’s efficiency and theatrics are old hat for those around the football program. When asked if his starting quarterback’s play through eight games had come as a surprise, QB coach Keith Heckendorf smiled, shook his head, and said, “No, we see it every day.”
As it turns out, the coaching staff shares similar thoughts as their fans when Trubisky is off his mark.
“Some days we go through practice,” Heckendorf said, “and if he throws an incompletion, it’s like, ‘what the heck is wrong with Mitch?’”
That’s high praise from a coaching staff hell-bent on perfection. That Trubisky hasn’t been, although he’s made strides each week in various categories, ranging from leadership command to decision-making to playing within the system. Grading his performance is often a subjective activity relative to the standard in place, which Trubisky is elevating each time he takes the field.
“He’s created an expectation for himself,” Heckendorf said. “And really, he’s raised the standard. You do that through volume. We’ve seen him in practice over the years do it day in and day out, so it becomes an expectation. Fair or unfair, that’s the world we live in. He’s always going to be under a microscope, and there’s going to be expectations. He’s created that, and that’s a good thing.”
With those towering expectations come a blend of media hype and scrutiny. Whether it was early Heisman talk or the recent mock draft boost, the off-the-field dialogue is not something Larry Fedora intends to engage during the season.
“I’m going to expect a kid to be mature enough to handle it just like he was after the Georgia game when nobody said he could play,” Fedora said this week. “… So you didn’t pay attention to it then and you don’t pay attention to it now. Then we’ll see what happens at the end of the season and we’ll address it at that point.”
While Trubisky and his head coach have agreed to delay the draft conversation until after the season, his teammates have jumped at the opportunity to lay on the hype.
“‘Oh, dude, Mitch, you’re gone next year! No. 1 on the big board!’” Trubisky said when asked what he’s been told. “Stuff like that, and that’s ridiculous. So yeah, they joke around with it.”
The hype is real, and without an opponent remaining that boasts a top-50 ranking in pass efficiency defense, there’s no reason to expect a drop off in Trubisky’s production. It’s what he has done since arriving in Chapel Hill in January 2013.
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