For the first time this season, backup quarterback Coleman Key did not take a single snap, much to the dismay of CSU fans on Twitter.
The final score might not show it, but it was the right call. That’s not a knock on Key – he’s a talented and capable player with a bright future.
But so is Nick Stevens, so let’s not make him the scapegoat just because its convenient. Both men are young, so matter who gets the start, there will be growing pains.
Was Stevens great Saturday? Far from it. Neither was Garrett Grayson at this point of his career.
Sophomore quarterback Nick Stevens this season: 53 of 86 for 622 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions
Garrett Grayson through three games as a sophomore: 51 of 87 for 641 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions
The Rams started off 1-2 in Grayson’s sophomore season as well. Could you imagine if Jim McElwain had benched Grayson then? No quarterback’s leash should be that short.
Stevens earned the starting job this year. The sophomore is not even a Mike Bobo recruit, but the former University of Georgia coach still believes Stevens is the best option.
“Nick practiced better this week,” Bobo said. “Coleman (Key) has to continue to practice the way we want him to. You have to earn the right to play on Saturdays by the way you work during the week.”
Of course, Stevens is not exempt from criticism. But he needs room to grow. He earned it with his play last season, followed by his performance in spring ball and capped off by his fall camp. The Rams shot themselves in the foot in plenty of ways against Colorado (and Minnesota) that had nothing to do with the quarterback.
Key might have a stronger arm. That would not have changed the fact that CU’s secondary was smothering. Or that Jasen Oden Jr. wasn’t in the game when CSU went for it on fourth down in the second quarter. Or that Wyatt Bryan missed three field goals.
Bobo is an offensive-minded coach, and he feels that Stevens gives his team the best chance of executing the game plan.
“I thought (Stevens) played confident,” Bobo said. “I thought he was into the game and got us into the right play.”
If you want to boil it down to just the end result, then that’s fine. But by that standard, Peyton Manning has not been a whole lot better with the Broncos than Tim Tebow was.
It goes beyond just the results of a few games early on the schedule. It comes down to maturity, awareness, knowledge of the offense and a plethora of intangibles. It’s not to say that Key might not have those qualities, but Stevens has exemplified them since he arrived in Fort Collins and a couple of tough outings does not erase that.
Despite two interceptions, Stevens looked very good running the offense early on and had some promising moments that will be lost in the disappointment of a second consecutive overtime loss.
His touchdown pass to Rashard Higgins was a thing a beauty. Equally impressive was the third-and-12 conversion late in the third quarter when Stevens quickly went through his reads and faked the scramble to buy Dalyn Dawkins just a little more room to work before finding the running back to move the chains.
Stevens might not blow you away with a cannon of an arm, and he might not catch your eye with his physical stature like Key. But he has what it takes to lead CSU. The sophomore made a few sketchy decisions and missed a few open targets against the Buffs. But he is young, and whether it is him or Key under center, that is to be expected.
“Anytime you look at the tape you’re going to go back and say that we had a chance on this one and that one, but you’re not going to hit every throw and you’re not going to make every correct decision,” Bobo said. “I think it showed a lot of resolve in him and a lot of belief in the offense in him to do that after the pick-six. It would have been easy to hang your head.”
A quarterback can’t learn if he never gets the chance to make mistakes. My bet is that the mistakes won’t last much longer for Stevens… as long as he is given the opportunity to correct them.
Collegian Sports Editor Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @emccarthy22.