Friday, May 24, 2024

Northwestern lands Mike Wright: Veteran SEC QB gives Wildcats boost of versatility on offense

Vanderbilt v Kentucky
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Northwestern may have solved its quarterback question for the 2024 season on Thursday when former Vanderbilt and Mississippi State signal-caller Mike Wright announced his commitment to the Wildcats. Wright is a dual-threat player with four years of SEC experience who should immediately compete for the starting job after presumptive starter Brendan Sullivan’s departure this spring.

Sullivan, who committed to Iowa on Wednesday, was set to be Northwestern’s leading returning passer from a team that finished 8-5. But when he entered the portal, it left second-year coach David Braun with an open spot on the depth chart that Wright should fit into nicely.

His top competition for the job may be Ryan Hilinski, who has attempted 850 passes over five seasons at South Carolina and Northwestern. The other scholarship options are junior Jack Lausch and sophomore Aidan Gray, who have combined to attempt 11 career passes.

What sets Wright apart from the group is his demonstrated history of hurting opponents with both his arm and legs in the SEC. Though he owns a career completion percentage of just 55.5%, Wright has amassed 1,229 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns on the ground during his career.

Dynamic offensive option

Dynamic quarterback play could be key for Northwestern, which is losing leading receiver Cam Johnson from its 2023 roster. While No. 2 and No. 3 receivers Bryce Kurtz and A.J. Henning are back, the Wildcats don’t have the makings of an explosive passing offense after ranking No. 94 nationally in passing offense and No. 121 in total offense last season.

Wright’s mobility could unlock a new element to the Wildcats’ attack after Sullivan and fellow quarterback Ben Bryant netted just 127 yards rushing in 2023. The 6-foot-3 Wright frequently entered scramble mode and benefitted from designed run plays during his time with the Commodores and Bulldogs. He totaled over 100 yards rushing three times while playing for Vanderbilt.

Quick study

First-year Northwestern offensive coordinator Zach Lujan spent the past seven seasons at FCS powerhouse South Dakota State, including the last two as offensive coordinator for teams that won consecutive FCS national titles. The Jackrabbits’ dominance came with a mobile quarterback in Mark Gronowski, who netted 402 yards rushing with eight touchdowns on the ground in 2023. Gronowski netted 408 yards rushing with 12 touchdowns in 2022.

Of the quarterbacks on Northwestern’s roster, Wright most closely resembles that skillset. But without the benefit of spring practice, he will need to be a quick study in Lujan’s scheme in order to win the job as the Wildcats open against reigning MAC champion Miami (Ohio) before taking on ACC foe Duke in Week 2.

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