Three weeks ago, Jake Hubenak was a third-string quarterback with no expectation of seeing any playing time in Texas A&M’s postseason matchup with Louisville in the Music City Bowl. But on Wednesday night, he came just 24 yards short of leading the Aggies to a come-from-behind fourth-quarter victory.
Texas A&M (8-5, 4-4 SEC) lost to Louisville (8-5, 5-3 ACC) by a final score of 27-21, but you wouldn’t have been able to guess that Hubenak, a sophomore, was making his first career FBS start after No. 1 and 2 options — Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray — abruptly left for greener pastures.
“You know, it happened early enough that during practices that we were able to really work with Jake, and so the main part of it was that it was early enough that we were able to practice him,” said head coach Kevin Sumlin during the team’s post-game press conference. “The team knew he was going to play, and you know, I thought that we practiced and responded well before the game, and I thought that after he settled down early, he got a little bit better towards the end of the second quarter and really gave us a chance to win the game at the end.
“It was a heck of a position for a guy that makes his first start, and a lot of guys rallied around him.”
After a slow start that saw him hitting just three of his first 10 pass attempts, Hubenak finished 28-of-48 (58.3 percent) with 307 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, ending with a 64.1 QBR despite being sacked five times and seemingly being forced out of the pocket on every drop back. He had the Aggies in position to take the lead with under three minutes remaining, but failed to convert on a 4th-and-8 from the Cardinals’ 24-yard-line.
Still, it was a performance that exceeded expectations, as Hubenak entered the game with 27 career attempts and very little time to prepare with the first team in his new role as the starting quarterback for the Aggies.
“Like I said, I thought early, you could see a little bit of — he was — once he settled down, he was fine. Early, that can be a little bit expected. But I thought he had great demeanor during the game,” said Sumlin. “He was really upset about the fumble. But there were some other things going on on the interceptions that could have gone either way, and sometimes you get those calls, sometimes you don’t. But we had a couple balls down the middle of the field obviously that there was some contact, and those are plays that we make most of the time. We didn’t make them, and then like I said, you’ve got to give Louisville credit, too, in those situations for making plays.
“For a guy to come in and do what he did and our team to give us a chance at the end of the game with everything that happened for really the 55 minutes beforehand, you’ve got to be proud of him.”
Hubenak wasn’t able to take the program to its ninth victory for the fourth time over the last six seasons, but his performance was a solid first audition in hopes to retain the starting job in 2016. Texas A&M has plenty of questions surrounding Sumlin’s status in College Station and lacks depth at the quarterback position, but Hubenak — who is currently the only scholarship QB on the roster — has a leg up on any incoming competition, which could come way of a graduate transfer or two.
“Yeah, Jake kept his composure the whole time. You really can’t tell,” said running back Tra Carson, who finished the game with 106 yards rushing and a touchdown. “He keeps a straight face throughout the whole game whether he makes a mistake or he makes a big play, so to me he never seems rattled, and I think he did a great job of taking control of the huddle and giving us a good chance to win at the end.”
Texas A&M will head into the new year losing five of its final eight games of the season after starting 2015 with a promising 5-0 record.