Column: Why wasn't Gunnar Holmberg Duke football's starting quarterback last year?

Quarterback Gunnar Holmberg has a 71.4% completion rate throughout his first two games.
Quarterback Gunnar Holmberg has a 71.4% completion rate throughout his first two games.

The Blue Devils have only suited up for two games, but one thing is clear—Gunnar Holmberg is a major upgrade from Chase Brice.

The North Carolina native has been far from perfect, as his goal line fumble against Charlotte indicates, but his 71.4% completion rate and 249 passing yards per contest have been a wind in the sails of what has been a rudderless Duke offense for the better part of the past two years.

With that in mind, one question sticks out: Why was Holmberg not the 2020 starter? With every successive offensive snap, the decision to anoint Brice as Quentin Harris’ replacement makes less and less sense. Just based on their respective skillsets, Holmberg has an advantage in multiple key areas:

  1. His legs: Having a mobile quarterback opens up new sections of your playbook, and while Holmberg is not someone who will take off 20 times a night, giving co-offensive coordinators Jeff Faris and Re'quan Boyette the option of calling bootlegs, quarterback draws and simple rollouts has slightly modernized the arsenal. The graduate student at least is able to keep the opposing defenses honest with his feet. 
  2. His accuracy: Ball placement is everything, and Holmberg has so far been able to maximize yards after catch and fit the ball into tighter windows than Brice. He still has some work to do with the deep ball, but the Heritage High School alum has shown a rapport with the likes of Jake Bobo and Jalon Calhoun on quick out routes and shallow crossers, respectively. 

Pound for pound, Holmberg is clearly the better quarterback, which makes the decision to make him the backup by head coach David Cutcliffe and the rest of the offensive staff last August very befuddling. Does Holmberg lead the Blue Devils to seven or eight wins last year? No, but Duke would certainly have been more competitive against the middle tier of the ACC. Add that to the general struggles for the program over the last 21 games, and substantial criticism is in order for the powers that be in the facility. 

Now, whether Holmberg can get the job done against upper-level competition is another story. Northwestern brings a stingy defense into Wallace Wade Stadium this weekend, and the ACC Coastal always throws some curveballs. 

Still, though, it’s clear that when you compare the last two Duke signal callers, Holmberg takes the cake as the more effective starter. Which again begs the question: Why wasn’t he already? 

Max Rego profile
Max Rego

Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.


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