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612 Days and Counting: A First Glance at Grandview QB Zach Smith

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In Episode 1 of this new series, JB Lajzer will attempt to analyze recruiting while not boring you to tears.

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612 days. 14688 hours. 881820 minutes. However you wish to count it, this is the amount of time that will pass before National Signing Day on February 3, 2016 – the day the Class of 2016 will officially become a part of the Baylor family.

By the time Grandview Zebra QB Zach Smith is able to sign his name on the dotted line, solidifying his commitment to Baylor, the nation, the state and the program will all have different leadership than they have today. Bryce Petty will have left the program in the capable hands of Seth Russell, Chris Johnson and Chad President to pursue a successful NFL career. The Golden Wave Marching Band will replace the song I have so lovingly termed The Dirge (you may know this as the theme from The Young Lions) with Turn Down for What. Derek Fisher will lead the Thunder to a championship. Manziel will continue to longstanding tradition of Browns QBs taken 22nd overall and will be out of the league.

And by some miracle, we will all know more about Zach Smith.

Here’s what we do know:

In one year as a starter for the AA Grandview Zebras, Smith completed 157/256 (61.3%) passes for 2703 yards, 31 TDs and 9 INTs.

He is a junior.

He is single because he loves cats.

Not a lot to go on; however, there is roughly 10 minutes of footage on HUDL showcasing 20/31 passing and 3/6  rushing TDs. So let’s get started.

First, a look at the measurables. The easiest - and laziest - comparison to Grandview #11 is our very own future Heisman candidate, Bryce Petty. Like Petty, the 6’4" Smith easily passes the eyeball test for a pro-style, pocket passer. Assuming he does not gain another couple of inches, Smith will enroll at Baylor as one of the tallest QBs on the roster, along with current RS-Freshman, Chris Johnson (6’4", 220lbs). Smith will enter his junior season at Grandview weighing in at 200lbs. Given that he is only a rising junior, Smith will benefit from an additional 3-4 years in the weight room prior to taking his first snap as a Bear. I’ll be shocked if Kaz doesn’t already have a weight regimen in place to propel Smith to 220lbs. Smith has a reported 30" vertical, can squat 315lbs and benches 250 lbs – for those of you who asked.

Mechanically, Smith appears to have a solid release and shows surprising control and accuracy for a first year player. Smith’s best performances were in wins against Whitney (6-6) and Godley (9-4) where he threw for a combined 759 yards, 9 TDs and no INTs with an average QBR of 159. Like most Texas high schools, Grandview runs a spread offense utilizing multiple receiver formations. Smith is comfortable and has confidence throwing the ball to anyone anywhere on the field. Grandview appears to use some aspects of zone-read; however, Smith only carried the ball 30 times in 12 games for 15 yards and 6 TDs. There was limited footage of Smith taking snaps under center. Smith also had the benefit of a rushing attack which gave him 2599 yards on the season.

Smith’s HUDL footage contains 4 designed QB runs, 3 of which originated in the redzone and resulted in TDs. Smith has a reported 40 time of 4.83 which would have made him the 8th faster QB in the 2014 NFL draft between Jordan Lynch (4.76) and Tajh Boyd (4.84). Smith, much like Petty, is more quick than fast, and while it is unlikely that Smith would ever break off a 76 yard run for a TD, his size and speed does make him a viable threat in the redzone.

But before you make your reservations for the 2018 Heisman presentation…While Smith was able to lead the Zebras to an 8*-2 regular season record before falling in the second round of the AA playoffs to White Oak, Grandview only beat 3 teams with a winning record. This means Grandview was beat opponents with a combined record of 40-59 while losing to opponents with a combined record of 35-5. Further, while Grandview was able to score over 60 points in 7 of their 12 games, Zach Smith threw for 300 or more yards only 3 times in the season.

*Zach Smith only threw 3 passes in the season opener against Paradise (1-9); Senior Thomas Ben took the majority of snaps.

As previously mentioned, Smith recorded rushing statistics of 15 yards on 30 carries over 12 games. To put this into perspective, had Smith fallen forward across the line of scrimmage 1x each game, he would have gained 24 yards. While rushing numbers for non-dual threat QBs are relatively unimportant (see Peyton Manning with an "impressive" -31 yards on 32 carries for 2013), what it does tell us is he was sacked, and sacked often. In the 50-29 loss to Lorena (9-2) - easily his worst game of the 2013-14 season – Smith was sacked 4.5 times, was hurried an additional 8 times and accounted for 4 turnovers (2 INTs, 2 Fumbles) as a result of pressure in the pocket. Grandview’s loss to Lorena came on the heels of a loss all too familiar for ODBers to Eastland (13-1), in which the Zebras were outstripped (I’m sorry) 76-64. While there is limited information regarding Eastland’s defensive performance, Maxprep shows Smith recorded -26 yards on 9 attempts. Film from Eastland’s homecoming shows Smith was picked off twice in the loss, both the result of increasing pressure from the defense.**

**For the record, one of the interceptions came off a pass deflected at the line of scrimmage. The second came while Smith was in the process of being sacked.

Although an interception rate of 1 every 28 attempts is far from terrible (Nick Florence threw 1 INT for every 36 attempts in 2012), Smith seemed to take needless risks with the football. HUDL footage shows several incidents where Smith is able to move out of or up in the pocket to avoid the defender; however, there were limited instances where Smith checked down to an open receiver. Instead, Smith would often trust in his ability and arm strength to force the ball into coverage. Confidence is incredibly more difficult to coach than control; I would take this problem 10/10 times. This is the definition of nit picking and should be ironed out after his redshirt year if not prior.

The problem with trying to analyze AA players is that they play at the AA level. Grandview is a community of just over 1500 people, south of Alvarado – which means it’s about 40 minutes on the other side of nowhere (which incidentally is in Midlothian). There is one high school. To fully understand AA football, know that Zebra center senior Dusty Holt is 5’11", 220 pounds and the senior two-way player at RT and DT, Josh Russell, is 6’0", 205lbs. When it comes to small town football, Zach Smiths are the rarity. Had Smith the benefit of Aledo’s (AAAA) offensive line – whose smallest player is junior 6’1", 265lbs Josh Elam – he may not have thrown 9 interceptions on the year, and may not have been under constant duress. By the same logic, had Smith faced AAAA or AAAAA competition passes thrown into tight coverage, as is readily available throughout his HUDL reel, could be deflected – or worse, picked off. If nothing else, Smith should enjoy not being the tallest player on the team when he arrives in 2016, and the added size on the line should enhance his own game.

What is more telling here is a pattern. Although Baylor has excelled with smaller quarterbacks like RGIII (6’2" 215) and Nick Florence (6’1" 195), TGCAB experienced his best success with Petty (6’3", 230) as the signal caller. As we all saw from last year, Petty was at his best when he worked within the pocket and looked for the 2nd and 3rd option. While willing and able to run when necessary, Petty understands no one is faster than the ball. Throughout his HUDL reel, Smith shows that he too is able to maneuver in the pocket, stepping away from defenders to buy extra time for his receivers. As mentioned earlier, Smith and Petty have a similar rushing style for those rare times both decide to take matters into their own hands. In fact, a careful review of Petty’s own HUDL tape from 2008 shows just how similar the two QBs are at this stage in their mutual development (here is the link to what I can only assume was footage collected on betamax of Petty while at Midlothian High School). TCGAB has found a young talent he can mold; his next star pupil – the kwisatz haderach – the one who can go into the place that is terrifying to Big 12 DCs.

Or so we all hope. A lot can happen between now and what has slowly turned into 611 days from now (yay). For now I’m going to focus on the first 94 days – that's when the Grandview Zebras launch their 2014 campaign against Hirschi at Zebra Stadium.