Tarleton’s top quarterbacks complement each other in 2021 camp
STEPHENVILLE — Tarleton's quarterback room has a lot of what any other NCAA Division I program would pine for. Talent, experience, high football IQ, high intelligence in general, and a difference in playing style between the top two quarterbacks, something the defense can benefit from in camp.
Steven Duncan has returned for his second season at Tarleton after starting seven of eight games in the spring. The redshirt junior is more of a traditional quarterback – a tall, looming presence (6-6, 235 pounds) in the pocket with a big arm and a will to stay on his feet. Mike Irwin is beginning his first season at Tarleton, bringing over a wealth of experience from his collegiate stops. Irwin, a junior, is a dual threat, someone who can extend a play with his legs and keep the defense honest.
Both complement each other well with their important similarities and differing styles of play.
"The quarterbacks look good, they're getting better," head coach Todd Whitten said. "Steven's now been here, this will be his third semester. Irwin's just getting here – I think he's doing well and progressing nicely, so we're going to let those guys keep battling, keep competing. I think competition is good for everybody.
"They're different, but they're both good quarterbacks. Steven is probably a guy with a little stronger arm, Irwin is a guy with a little more mobility. I think they're both good quarterbacks."
The Texans went 5-3 in the spring season with Duncan at the helm the majority of the year. He threw for 1,542 yards and 11 touchdowns, completing 59.3 percent (127-214) of his throws. He had his best game at Dixie State on March 13, where he completed 23-of-33 (.697) passes for 347 yards and four touchdowns, both career-high marks.
Duncan had 20 completions that were good for 20 yards or more. The big plays have been a point of emphasis for him entering 2021.
"My focus is just narrowing down that deep ball," Duncan said. "I was a little off [last year]. That used to be kind of the thing I was good at in high school. I got away from it. All summer just repping that deep ball, coming out and attacking every rep, that's all I can do. Control what I can control and keep going with it."
Despite not matching his expectations when throwing it deep, Duncan took care of the ball in 2020, only throwing three interceptions on the season, zero in the first five games.
"That was something that I struggled with at Western [Kentucky]," Duncan said. "It's something that I just drilled and I watched a whole bunch of film. That's something that I've taken pride in, and I do take pride in, so that's where I'm at with that. Just every rep knowing that football is the whole team."
Ball security and experience are really the top two areas that Duncan and Irwin share the most in common with. Duncan is entering his sixth year of action in college football, playing his first four years at Western Kentucky where he saw action in 13 games, earning eight starts. He threw for 1,863 yards and 14 touchdowns on a .583 completion percentage there, and was part of two bowl victories. Irwin, meanwhile, is entering his fourth year of collegiate competition, having spent his first two years at Oregon and last season at Garden City Community College. For the CC, he played in eight games, throwing for 634 yards on 49.5 percent passing (55-of-111), four touchdowns and no interceptions.
"It's been a journey to say the least," Irwin said. "It was incredible getting to be in the room with Justin Herbert over at U of O, see how he prepares, saw him perform. So I definitely took a lot of how he – his preparation, I kind of put that into my game and how I prepare. Then I went the JUCO route. It definitely made me question if I wanted to play football. The answer is yes, so I got that hunger, I got that fire, so I'm ready to see where things go here."
Irwin was at Oregon for two years, redshirting his first season. He joined the Ducks after four years of starting at quarterback across three high schools. His senior year was spent at Lakeridge High School in Lake Oswego, Oregon, where completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,249 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also rushed for 563 yards and eight touchdowns. During a game in his time at Mountain View High School in Bend, Oregon, Irwin scored five touchdowns, throwing for 262 yards and rushing for 256 yards.
When asked what his best strength is as a QB, Irwin said it's his "ability to create." Now he's focused on getting comfortable with the offense, as he's already comfortable being in Stephenville.
"I love it so far. The culture, the environment, everything like that," Irwin said. "Everyone has been super, super friendly. The team is definitely really hungry. We got a bunch of incredible players, a bunch of really, really good athletes, and Coach has been very, very welcoming, so I'm loving it so far."
Duncan shared his sentiment, and has his eyes on being the first WAC Champions since 2012.
"I think we can do whatever we put our mind to," Duncan said. "Right now our mind is to win the WAC Championship. So that's what we're looking forward to, that's why we're out here every day competing against each other and that's what we want to do.
"I love this team, I love this town, I love this school. That's all in my heart and I'll be your quarterback. Let's go win some games."