To understand the potential impact of redshirt freshman quarterback Paxton Lynch, you have to do two things up front: forget his numbers (for a while) and look at the numbers produced by other Tiger quarterbacks.
Let me give you some quick context. As recently as 1998-2000, the University of Memphis had a three-year run in which the team’s leading passer threw for 930 yards (Neil Suber), 856 yards (Travis Anglin) and 857 yards (Scott Scherer).
Through two games this season, Cal freshman Jared Goff already has thrown for 930 yards. And he’s 6-4, or two inches shorter than Paxton Lynch.
Lynch is tall enough to see over defenses and downfield and we, too, need to be tall enough, visionary enough, to see what this kid might look like under center at mid-season, next season, and for two more years beyond that.
In the modern era, Danny Wimprine (2001-2004) is the Tigers standard at quarterback. His 10,215 career passing yards are almost double that of No. 2 Martin Hankins (2006-2007) on the school’s all-time list. It’s the same story with career touchdown passes, with Wimprine at 81 and Hankins at 43.
So for those of you who went away from Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium last Saturday frustrated by a 28-14 loss to Duke, a pop-gun offense with no running game and pedestrian numbers from Lynch – 14-of-28 for 148 yards – I get it.
But perhaps at no time in recent memory is patience with a particular player more called for than now with young Paxton Lynch, who before getting hurt in high school was the target of much bigger football programs, including the University of Florida.
Lynch had a costly fumble in the red zone and failed to get a makeable first down while running the ball on another play. He threw too many passes that were almost, but not quite, good enough. And his receivers were guilty of several “contested drops,” to use coach Justin Fuente’s phrasing.
That said, those “near-miss” plays would not have been that close with last year’s starter Jacob Karam. There’s that much difference in their arms.
“There are more balls out there to be had,” Fuente said when asked to evaluate the receivers’ performance. “Probably more than there were in the past. We’ve got to do a better job going to get them.”
Lynch hooked up with Tevin Jones for a 45-yard strike down the middle of the field, by far the most memorable play of the day. They came close a couple of other times and so did a Lynch-for-Joe Craig shot downfield that had Craig trying to make a sliding catch but unable to secure the ball.
“I like to throw it deep,” Lynch said after the Duke game. “If I get a chance to throw one-on-one deep, I’m going to take it.”
Said Jones: “He’ll throw anywhere.”
So it was more than a little bit impressive that Lynch did not throw an interception or even a near-interception. Nor could Fuente recall a time his young quarterback came off the field and he had to tell him he had totally misread the defense or gone the wrong place with the ball.
Lynch admitted to having “butterflies” before the game, but as Fuente said of his first game action: “It wasn’t too big for him.”
This early in what I believe we will one day remember as the Paxton Lynch Era, the kid is still fitting into his quarterback clothes. But when taking the long view, they look like they were made for him.
“I anticipate him continuing to get better as a quarterback every week,” Fuente said, himself a former quarterback at Oklahoma and Murray State. “Now does that mean his numbers steadily increase? I have no idea.”
I have an idea. Paxton Lynch will pass for something close to the 1,329 yards Wimprine threw for as a freshman. Wimprine topped out at 3,174 as a junior but Wimprine was a grinder, a guy who did much with average ability.
Lynch already has more raw talent than Wimprine. In due time, he might just have better numbers.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.