Most of this has been written for some time, and was originally intended to be an August continuation of the Cheap Seats Football Retrospective from back in 2009. But while Russell Wilson’s separation from State was official weeks ago, yesterday’s announcement that he’ll leave the Rockies organization and transfer to Wisconsin to play out his remaining eligibility officially ended a year of indecisiveness that has created a rift of sorts among State fans. The timing just seems right now to publish a much-condensed version of the original, put closure on the Russell Wilson era, and move forward with Mike Glennon.
I don’t remember much about Russell Wilson’s recruitment, nor do I recall being all that excited about his potential, beyond the fact that anyone had to be better than Daniel Evans.
Wilson’s introduction to State fans was unremarkable: he completed one pass for 12 yards and was knocked out of the game with a concussion near the end of the first quarter. When that 2008 ESPN Thursday season-opener in Columbia was over, State had been outscored 71-0 in its past two games and a disgruntled fan base was preparing itself for another year — the fifth straight, in fact — without so much as a serviceable quarterback. His next start was two weeks later, at Clemson, where he showed no signs of lighting a fire to State’s anemic offense. He never found any rhythm, completing less than 50% of his 20 passes in a 27-9 loss. He threw his first interception of the season around the midway point of the fourth quarter of that game on September 13, 2008. He threw his next interception at Wake Forest on October 3…
Beginning sometime during the second half of the overtime win over #15 ECU, Wilson began a three-year stretch at State that was, simply, stellar. As a freshman in 2008, he had an ACC-best passer rating of 133.9 and led the conference in total yards per game (213); completed 54.5% of his passes with 1,955 yards and 17 touchdowns; and rushed for 395 yards and four touchdowns. His performance earned him ACC Rookie of the Year and First Team All ACC honors.
He piloted an offense that was both highly effective and efficient in the red zone, and he was largely the reason State was able to overcome a 2-6 record and receive an invite to the PapaJohns.com Bowl in Birmingham. His true value was indeed revealed in the second half of that game, after he left with a sprained knee and a 17-6 halftime lead. In Wilson’s place, Harrison Beck and Daniel Evans (combined) completed only five of 16 passes and somehow managed three drive-killing interceptions deep in Rutgers territory, at the 32, 20, and one yard lines. The offense stalled without Wilson and State lost 29-23 to finish the season with a losing record (6-7).
In 2009 his passer rating actually improved to 147.8, and he completed 59.3% of his passes for 3,027 yards with 31 touchdowns; he rushed for 260 yards and four touchdowns. But after his interception-free streak ended at Wake Forest in the fifth game of the season, he threw 11 picks over the next seven games (only 15 touchdowns). He had five games where he threw at least four touchdowns, but, similar to 2003, State’s defense simply wasn’t giving its offense the chance to win games, and State finished the season at 5-7.
2010 seemed like a down year for Wilson, as his passer rating fell to 127.5, but he completed 58.4% of his passes for 3,563 yards with 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions; he rushed for 435 yards and nine touchdowns. The Virginia Tech loss is when many of us grew frustrated that he was forcing passes in situations he’d escaped so many times in the past, but after that three game stretch in October — Virginia Tech, Boston College, at East Carolina — where he threw only seven touchdowns and eight of his 14 interceptions, he actually slipped neatly back into his 2009 form, with no more than a single interception in the remaining six games. Arguably, his best performance was against West Virginia in the Champs Sports Bowl (which most of us expected was his last at State), and State finished the season 9-4.
Statistically, Wilson left State as a better quarterback than Jamie Barnette but nowhere near as awesome as Philip Rivers. With 8,545 passing yards in three seasons, he likely would’ve overtaken Barnette’s passing total (9,461) but would’ve needed 4,940 yards to pass Philip (13,484) — unrealistic at best. However, with 76 passing and 15 rushing touchdowns, he would’ve had a legitimate shot to pass Philip in both categories (95 and 112, respectively).
Perhaps Wilson’s most important contribution to his legacy was that he never lost to Carolina: in three games against them (41-10, 28-27, 29-25), Wilson completed 62% of his passes for 701 yards with eight touchdowns and only a single interception. In fact, two different plays on a single drive in the 2010 game at Kenan proved a microcosm of Carolina’s struggles to contain Wilson: first, trailing late in the third quarter with the drive stalling out, on third-and-18 Wilson broke off a 34-yard run before Quinton Coples was penalized for a late hit clearly meant to take Wilson out of the game (1:33 mark); then just four plays later, on fourth-and-goal from the two, Wilson scrambled under pressure and lofted a desperate pass (while falling off-balance around the 20) that was tipped into Owen Spencer’s hands for a touchdown (2:13 mark).
For three years, Wilson was exactly the type of guy we wanted leading our team. He was a great playmaker, an incredible athlete, and a fine representative of this great University. It’s tough to fault a guy like Wilson for wanting to pursue his dream to be a two-sport star. But in that pursuit, it’s possible that his partial commitment to two different sports may in fact prove detrimental to his success beyond college at either, and that’s the real shame.
I wish Wilson nothing but success at Wisconsin, where his ceiling, as well as the opportunity to showcase his talent, is undoubtedly much higher than in Raleigh, especially considering Wisconsin is a favorite to win the Big Ten and play in the Rose Bowl. Good for him. No doubt his new fans will enjoy watching him as much as we did for three years, but I’m just not interested in previewing his situation in Madison.
And, without knowing the full context and details of his departure, I support TOB’s decision to move forward with Mike Glennon in 2011. Ever the pessimist, by no means am I suggesting Glennon will be a better quarterback — he hasn’t proven anything to me yet. I liked Wilson and hated to see him go, especially the way he left. But, I truly believe that if Wilson really wanted to be at State this year, he would have committed to this team, and could have been here. But for whatever reason, he didn’t, and he isn’t.
So it’s time to move on: Wilson is a Badger and this is now Mike Glennon’s team.
No pressure, huh?