North Texas Daily

COLUMN: How much slack should Austin Aune have this season?

COLUMN: How much slack should Austin Aune have this season?

COLUMN: How much slack should Austin Aune have this season?
July 30
13:00 2021

All indications from head football coach Seth Littrell seem to show redshirt-sophomore Austin Aune as the frontrunner to be the starting quarterback in 2021.

Littrell said as much at the Coaches Caravan in June when he said the job was Aune’s to “go out there and take.” While Aune will have earned the job as the most experienced returner and by showing consistent play in the offseason, how much slack should he be given this season as the presumptive starter?

The 6-foot-2 righty undoubtedly has arm talent as a former Minor League Baseball pitcher in the New York Yankees system and is more of an athlete than some give him credit for. Aune appeared in eight games last season, starting in just three and struggling to find consistency throughout the entire 10-game campaign. He was never able to completely find his footing in 2020, mostly due to sharing the starting job with former quarterback Jason Bean (now transferred to the University of Kansas).

At times, Aune seemed to match the offensive scheme better with his big arm complimenting superstar wide receiver Jaelon Darden’s skillset as the offense needed a quarterback who could throw the deep ball. Unfortunately for Aune, the coaching staff wanted a quarterback who was more athletic and explosive, choosing Bean to be the guy at times. Even as Aune started significantly less than Bean, their passing numbers were similar with Aune throwing for 14 touchdowns and four interceptions while Bean tallied 14 touchdowns and five interceptions on a similar completion percentage.

In 2021, Aune has to challenge another quarterback who utilized the transfer portal this offseason. Former North Carolina quarterback Jace Ruder transferred to North Texas, hoping to beat out Aune for the starting job. A decent amount of North Texas fans and writers seem to think Ruder will secure the starting job given his pedigree, but Littrell said Aune was the starter in June and basically reiterated his stance during Conference USA media day. While there was no set starter last season, it is unclear how long the fuse will be for Aune.

With a former four-star recruit in Ruder behind Aune, the quarterback situation could be similar to last season–which would bode badly for the team. If Aune has a slow start to the season, the football coaching staff will have a dilemma. Trusting Aune to improve could mean sacrificing early wins in a daunting non-conference slate, which in turn would be detrimental for team morale. On the other side of the coin, switching quarterbacks could create a similar dynamic to 2020, where neither starter was able to consistently gain their footing.

With the knowledge from last year, it would be most beneficial for the coaching staff to stick with Aune for the season (barring abysmal performance). If Aune plays how he is capable, the team will excel under his leadership. Aune has the capability of being a leader and is the oldest player on the team. Although his ability has come in flashes, it is possible knowing he is the set starter will lift his morale and performance. A happy Aune could be an Aune who takes the next step in his career, boosting a team needing a solidified starting quarterback badly. 

Aune needs and deserves plenty of slack this season if he is indeed the starter. There are a lot of things the coaching staff cannot control in players’ performance, but there is one they can control — offering consistent opportunities.

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

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Reed Smith

Reed Smith

Senior Sports Writer.

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