Both, Ball and Whitehurst, made big splashes as freshmen and have a world of high expectations thrust upon them. However, the expectations for each were almost imposable to live up to.
In Whitehurst’s first-ever start as a freshman, he threw for 420 yards and four touchdowns in leading Clemson to a come-from-behind victory at Duke. In Ball’s second-ever start as a freshman, he threw for 149 yards and a touchdown in guiding the Yellow Jackets to the big upset over Auburn.
But from each of those moments on, the two quarterbacks and teams would look very good at times and very bad in others.
However, Ball is putting together a very solid senior season. At least for the time being, he’s erased much of the criticism concerning his inconsistency, just like Whitehurst did in his senior year at Clemson.
“In the second game of his collegiate career, he was carried off the field on the shoulders of the student body, and they were chanting ‘Reggie, Reggie, Reggie.’ Where do you go from there?” Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey asked. “That’s awfully hard to be able to handle that as an 18-year-old. That’s hard to handle as a 28-year-old or a 38-year-old, much less an 18-year-old.
“It’s not been easy for him. But he’s learned a lot and handled things well through the years. He’s such a great competitor, and I’m pleased that he’s having a good year this year. He just needs to keep going.”
While his numbers aren’t the greatest in the world, he has managed to avoid the turnovers.
Through six games this season, Ball has completed 51.9 percent of his passes, but more importantly, he has 10 touchdown passes compared to only five interceptions. In each of his previous three seasons, Ball through more picks and scores.
He also has 67 rushes for 315 yards and two touchdowns. Ball’s 4.7 yards per carry is by far the best of his career. His previous high was last year at 3.7 yards per carry. It’s also two yards more per attempt than what he averaged as a freshman and sophomore.
“He’s watching more film, and the offensive line is doing a good job, and he is trusting his teammates and understanding that he does not have to do it all by himself, that he has playmakers around him,” said running back Tashard Choice. “That’s one thing that has really helped his game this year and the coaches have really structured the offense to fit his best qualities and I think that's great.”
Sure, the move to have offensive coordinator Patrick Nix install a new offense and work intensively with Ball has helped in the same fashion it did at Clemson with offensive coordinator Rob Spence and Whitehurst, but there are other factors at work.
“I think there are a lot of reasons (for Ball’s development), not just him being a four-year starter, though that’s part of it,” Gailey said. “We’ve got experienced players at every other position for the first time in his career. The offense that Coach Nix has put in and done a great job with probably fits him very well, and he feels very comfortable doing it. So, I think there are a lot of plusses that are playing into him having the type of year he’s had thus far.”
There’s no doubt that having a stud receiver like Calvin Johnson has to help. But just keep in mind that Ball also had Johnson in each of the two previous seasons, and that didn’t seem to do much good.
Also, the fact that Johnson is no longer just a raw talent and that he fully understands all the intricacies of being the best receiver possible has helped Ball immeasurably grow as a quarterback.
“Every year, (Ball) has taken steps,” Johnson said. “This year you can definitely see how many steps he has taken with our record and the success of our offense right now. He has taken control of the offense out there, whether it is practice or the game. He is a whole different player.”