Phillip Ely transferred to Toledo from Alabama. He wasn’t a benchwarmer for Nick Saban. He was No. 2 on the depth chart at quarterback behind A.J. McCarron on a national championship team. He played in six games and had a touchdown pass against Mississippi State.
It would be hard to imagine why Ely transferred from the Southeastern Conference power to the Mid-American Conference to wear a baseball cap and hold a clipboard.
Sure enough, when UT opened its 2014 season Saturday night, Ely was the starting quarterback.
And after a slow start — he had less than 40 passing yards and a couple incompletions that could have/should have been interceptions after 24 minutes of play — Ely proved he was the right choice as the Rockets rolled to a 54-20 win at the Glass Bowl.
Ely threw for 337 yards and four touchdowns against New Hampshire, the No. 4-ranked FCS team in the country and one that has been in the Top 25 of that poll every week since early in the 2004 season. The Wildcats aren’t exactly chopped liver.
But before Ely, which rhymes with Ealey, could start, he had to beat out two teammates.
UT coach Matt Campbell says Ely, who sat out last season as a transfer, never approached the competition as if he were entitled.
“It was never, ‘Hey, I’m from Alabama.’ He focused on being the best he could be and I think his work ethic gained him a lot of respect from his teammates,” Campbell said.
UT’s coaches also weren’t smitten simply by his Crimson Tide background. They were at least as impressed with his background at Henry B. Plant High School in Tampa. He was ranked as the 48th best recruit in Florida, where college football players grow on trees. Being No. 48 on the Florida recruiting panels may be akin to being at the top of the list in, say, New Hampshire, no disrespect to the Granite State.
“It’s a really good high school program,” Campbell said. “They run the spread offense. Alabama doesn’t run the spread. It’s Phillip’s comfort zone. He fits here.”
Campbell insists, though, that the preseason quarterback competition, which extended Ely, Logan Woodside, and Michael Julian right to the end of fall camp, was no sham.
It wasn’t the done deal the rest of us might have expected.
“Logan helped us win two games as a freshman last year,” Campbell said. “And halfway through spring ball Michael Julian was leading the whole thing. So we let it play out. It was neck-to-neck for the longest time, so it was the fair thing to do.”
It is neck-to-neck no longer.
New Hampshire broke to a 14-3 lead, but Ely cut into that with a perfect throw over the middle to Corey Jones that split two defenders, as did Jones, who sprinted 64 yards for the score. It was on the next possession, though, that the light bulb seemed to come on and stay on.
Ely was 5-for-5 for 73 yards in what amounted to a two-minute drill at the end of the half as UT moved 96 yards in one minute, 52 seconds to grab the lead with 24 seconds left in the first half.
The second half produced lights-out play both by Ely and a running game that produced 314 yards by game’s end. UT’s total offense was 674 yards.
The quarterback position at Toledo is a done deal now.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.