27 August 2010

BYU is going with a two-quarterback system for 2010

Photos courtesy The Deseret News

This is from multiple sources, but here's Deseret News writer Jeff Call:
Junior Riley Nelson will start for BYU when the Cougars open the 2010 season against Washington on Sept. 4.

Coach Bronco Mendenhall said Friday that Nelson will take the first snaps against the Huskies, but reiterated that true freshman Jake Heaps will also play.

I'm glad to see Bronco reads my blog, and it's nice to know what we'll see next Saturday from the quarterback spot.
Offensive coordinator Robert Anae said of the two-quarterback system: "We have two starters."

Can't get much clearer than that.

While there are examples of successful two-quarterback teams, there are just as many, if not more, where the system blew up and contributed to a failure of a season.

Last year, Michigan played freshman Tate Forcier, a mobile quarterback with a pretty good arm. Head coach Rich Rodriguez also had freshman Denard Robinson, who was mostly a running QB and inferior to Forcier in the eyes of many college football fans. Rodriguez continued to give Robinson fairly heavy minutes as the season went on, and Forcier lost a lot of his confidence and/or became upset that he wasn't the clear starter and leader of the team. Michigan started the season 4-1 but won only one of their last six games. Other factors definitely played into this failure, but the two-quarterback system didn't work here.

An example that hits closer to home is BYU in 2000. Three quarterbacks got significant playing time; Charlie Peterson, Bret Engemann and Brandon Doman all had at least 90 pass attempts on the season, with Peterson starting the year and Doman finishing it. The team finished 6-6, losing to San Diego State and Colorado State along the way. To be fair, the Cougars did have to play at Florida State and Virginia, both tough games, but this team underachieved, thanks largely in part to the complete lack of stability at the quarterback spot.

Why does this happen? Why can a two-quarterback system drag a team down?

1. Ego and confidence. If a quarterback gets recruited by a team like Michigan or BYU, they have been "the man" for their high school team for three or more years. They have dominated their teenage opponents and been the clearcut leader of their team for a long time. Bring them into a situation where that's not the case, and they can feel slighted or crushed at the lack of trust the coaching staff shows in them. For a lot of these kids, football is everything, and if they start to feel like they aren't good enough to play the game they love at this higher level, they can start a death spiral of pity or anger. It's hard to win football games when one or both of your quarterbacks feel this way.

2. Lack of preparation. Neither quarterback gets the practice reps they need to be truly ready for games. There is only so much practice time available during the week, and a freshman quarterback like Heaps needs all the snaps he can get if he's going to be effective against the Washingtons and Air Forces of the world. In the two-quarterback scenario, he's splitting time with Nelson, probably close to 50/50, and his preparedness level is effectively cut in half. The same goes for Nelson, though it can be argued he doesn't need as much practice to be ready for gameday, thanks to his prior experience in the program.

3. Offensive confusion. The offense has to prepare two types of play every week. The offensive linemen have to work on protecting a pocket passer like Heaps and covering a scrambling Nelson. Wide receivers have to block more when Nelson is in, versus running their routes if Heaps is throwing the ball. Similar to problem number two, this leads to players not being quite ready when Saturday comes around.

Now, the nice thing about BYU's situation is that I believe both Heaps and Nelson are mature and level-headed individuals with lives and goals outside of football. I don't think either of them will enter into a death spiral anytime soon, though as the season wears on, one or both of them might.

ESPN.com's Andrea Adelson actually quoted both players on this subject in a post today.
"I know this will give us an opportunity to have a highly successful season," Nelson said in the statement. "Jake and I both have the ability to lead our team and offer unique skills that will help us be successful as an offensive unit. I am excited about this opportunity and fully expect that we will carry on the great tradition and legacy of the quarterback position here at BYU."

And from Heaps:
"I am 100 percent behind this decision. I feel the coaches have made the right decision for both Riley and I and this football team. Riley is a great player and I'm excited to have the opportunity to contribute. This isn't about me or him; it's about us -- it's about doing what we can to help our team."

Very impressive attitude from both of these players, but again, it's early.

I'm excited that BYU has a definite strategy in place for the 2010 season, and I think it could be a lot of fun to watch. That said, I am wary of potential problems that may arise, and will keep a close eye on these areas as the season progresses.


Seth said...

Do you know if Matt Reynolds is going to move to the right side when Nelson is in? Because that would only add to the confusion and difficulty.

Josh said...

I strongly disagree with Bronco. If Nelson can't separate himself with a freshman, get the freshman in there. It will give him more experience. Plus, he's the guy to fit in with BYU's system. He has a stronger arm than Nelson does. Also, if Nelson starts, teams(such as TCU, Florida State, and Utah) will stack the box and the offense will be stagnant.

This is eerily similar to Utah's qb situation last year. There was T-Cain who was a lot like Nelson, and Jordan Wynn, who was a lot like Heaps. Think about how good Wynn would be this year if he had been the starter the whole year. Cain performed well in camp, but when it came to the game, it was one read and he was taking off.

Brandon said...

I didn't know that, Seth. I hope he's up to it.

And Josh, you make good points. It may be similar to Brandon Doman playing without Luke Staley... defenses stacked up and dared him to throw long. Also good comparison to Cain and Wynn.

We'll have to see what happens.

Joseph Schuerman said...

I don't like it.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Steve-O said...

Wow. I actually called this when they drafted Heaps. I'm simply amazed that I made a correct call. :)