Austin Wilson threw as many passes as Terrel Hunt, completed more and threw for about the same amount of yards. In fact, he has a higher quarterback efficiency rating after game one than Hunt. None of that was supposed to happen.
Wilson, in fact, was not part of the original game plan. Maybe to take some snaps in garbage time of a blowout, but certainly not play meaningful minutes. That all changed when Hunt threw a punch late in the second quarter of Friday night’s season opener.
The wide-eyed freshman was thrust into action in front of 40,000-plus inside the Carrier Dome. Not only that, but Syracuse was nursing only a three-point lead upon his insertion into the lineup.
”Literally, I was focusing on what the next play was going to be,” Wilson said. “How to signal it in. At that point, I just had to react. (Terrel) said slow it down. Let things come to me and take what the defense gives you.”
In his first full drive as the lead signal caller, Wilson led a touchdown drive that put the Orange up by 10. But that drive was not all runs and protecting Wilson. He went 6-7 on the drive for 55-yards including a strike down the field to Jarrod West that set up the Adonis Ameen-Moore scoring run just two plays later.
The rest of Wilson’s performance was predictably inconsistent, but solid. He finished 11-17 for 89-yards with an efficiency rating of 108.7. He was errant on a couple of throws, sailing the ball over this intended target’s head. But he also showed poise in the pocket, the willingness to step up and deliver a throw under pressure, and the ability to make the correct decision with the ball.
Wilson was smart throughout his performance Friday night, not turning the ball over or taking a sack. Both positive signs for a young quarterback. His footwork in the pocket was solid and threw an accurate ball for the most part.
”He found a way to win the game,” head coach Scott Shafer said. “It wasn’t always the prettiest thing and I’m sure his butterflies were at an unbelievable level, but I’m proud of him. He had some good moments and you learn better from playing maybe not the way you wanted to than sitting there and saying ‘could’ve, would’ve, should’ve.’
”Again, we’re going to accentuate the positives and we’re going to look at the things we could do better and that would include developing our backup quarterbacks and everything and anything you can imagine.”
In the second overtime, Wilson hit West on a critical play to give Syracuse a first and goal that would ultimately lead to the game winning fake field goal score.
Ultimately, Syracuse won and Wilson was a part of that. For a true freshman who did not take any reps with the first time and was not part of the game plan, it was a solid performance. Avoiding the big mistake was critical. Obviously no one wants to have to navigate the season without Terrel Hunt.
But should something come up, and Wilson has to step in, he proved he can handle the situation.
”I think he responded very well,” wide receiver Ashton Broyld said. “He led us to victory and that’s all we could ask for.”