NASHVILLE — In a matter of two weeks, Texas A&M (8-4, 4-4 SEC) sophomore quarterback Jake Hubenak went from being an unknown name buried on a roster full of highly-skilled gunslingers to abruptly being thrusted into the starting role as his team prepares to face Louisville (7-5, 5-3 ACC) in the Music City Bowl.
But despite entering the month of December as the third option with just 27 pass attempts at the FBS level, both head coach Kevin Sumlin and Hubenak’s teammates have full confidence that the offense won’t miss a beat with him under center on Wednesday evening.
“It will be an adjustment as it is when any new quarterback takes over an offense, but Jake is great quarterback,” said center Mike Matthews during the bowl’s welcome party on Sunday night. “From Week 1, when he was the third-string quarterback, he was always slinging the ball. He’s got a great arm and I’ve said it all along, ‘That guy’s talented.’ ”
Starter Kyle Allen announced on Dec. 10 that he would be leaving the program, leaving no reason for his departure. One week later, second-string true freshman Kyler Murray followed suit, and he’s now with the Oklahoma Sooners.
That left Texas A&M with one scholarship quarterback left on the roster: Hubernak. And with a whole 12 days to adjust to his new role, the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Georgetown (TX) native has been handed the task of sustaining the Aggies’ 68th-ranked scoring offense, which produced 28.3 points per game with Allen and Murray.
“A lot of people panicked when Kyler [Murray] and Kyle [Allen] left but in fall camp I always thought Jake Hubenak was a great quarterback,” said senior defensive tackle Julien Obioha. “I always thought he was competing in the quarterback competition. I’ve said it since day one [in fall camp], we had three great quarterbacks, now we have one great quarterback.”
Hubernak, a junior college transfer, appeared in four different games for Texas A&M this season, completing 12-0f-27 (44.4 percent) attempts for 92 yards and a touchdown. As a redshirt freshman for Blinn Junior College in 2014, he led the NJCAA with 4,052 yards, 47 touchdowns and nine interceptions in eight games of action, hitting nearly 65 percent of his passes.
If he can bring that kind of presence to the Texas A&M offense — or anything relatively close — the Aggies won’t find much trouble moving the ball on a Louisville defense that is loaded with playmakers, but has struggled with consistency throughout the year.
Even without Allen or Murray, there won’t be any limitations on the offensive game plan, including what kind of plays offensive coordinator Jake Spavital will call.
“Jake’s been great; he’s always been energetic,” Sumlin said. “It’s his time now and he’s looking forward to it. So are we.
“He’s been all year so it’s not like he hasn’t practiced or done anything,” Sumlin said. “He’s been around for installations and everything else. It’s not how much we can give him, it’s what he’s comfortable with and what he likes to do. Fortunately, we’ve had a little bit more time than three or four days before our first game to be able to deal with that.”
Louisville enters the game having won five of its last six games after starting the season 2-4. During this stretch, the Cardinals — who rank 14th nationally in total defense (323.4 yards allowed per game) — have held five different opponents to under 20 points. But they’ve also surrendered 41, 31, 45, and 24.
Players on the defensive side of the ball are taking note of Hubernak and the element of the unknown, but they’re not concerned with being surprised by something out of the ordinary.
“They can’t switch the whole playbook,” said senior linebacker James Burgess, who finished the regular season with 91 tackles, good for second on the team.
His teammate and the Cardinals’ leader in tackles, Keith Kelsey, had the same thing to say about A&M’s approach to the offense.
“They’ve got the same concepts, the same plays,” he said. “We just have to go out and execute.”
Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino took more of the conservative route when asked about Hubernak running the show instead of what’s available on film, citing Sumlin’s ability to mold quarterbacks and create explosive passing plays.
“It’s a challenge,” Petrino said. “But I’ve known coach (Sumlin) for a long time. He’s got a system he truly believes in. He’s got concepts that he’s always going to do no matter who the quarterback is. And then you change up a little bit depending on who’s playing there.
“We’ve got to worry about where the receivers are lined up, what matchups they’re trying to work and how we’re going to defend their basic schemes, and then put pressure on the quarterback.”
Texas A&M and Louisville are set to kickoff in the 18th annual Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl inside Nissan Stadium at 6 p.m. ET, and the game can be viewed on ESPN.