Being a Division-I quarterback is no easy task. Neither is being an NCAA head football coach. Everything looks simpler from the couch. But the criticisms are rolling in for a reason.
Colorado State’s 2-4 start has fans pointing fingers and assigning blame.
Maybe it’s premature – the front half of the Rams’ schedule was loaded with opponents that they weren’t necessarily supposed to beat.
Maybe it’s just downright unfair – did anyone really think this team would have no trouble replacing the greatest passer in school history? There were bound to be growing pains, and it wouldn’t be fair to put all of the blame on the passing.
“That’s what we all want to talk about, but there’s a lot more issues than just the quarterback,” CSU head coach Mike Bobo said.
There is no denying it though: the two-quarterback system has been as disappointing as it has been confusing.
Nick Stevens is officially the starter. But he’s been replaced on multiple occasions by Coleman Key – sometimes because of performance, sometimes by design.
Against Minnesota, Stevens was benched and Key finished the game. A week later, Key didn’t take a single snap as Stevens played the entire game against the University of Colorado. Last week, Key checked in for Stevens once again, but it was after the starter had thrown just one pass.
Bobo said it was the plan all along for Key to enter the game on the third drive. Stevens came back in during the third quarter to replace Key, who had gone 5-for-19 with two interceptions.
“Your job as a quarterback is to go out there and play,” Bobo said. “I think I’ve made it abundantly clear to Nick that we’ve got confidence. He’s had lots of opportunities, and the other guy deserved an opportunity too.”
And to be fair, Bobo really had made it clear before the season that Key would see some reps. We just didn’t know how many, or how soon. Still, what seems at times like a lack of commitment to the starter is puzzling from a spectator’s perspective.
Bobo’s not just talking from a coach’s perspective himself though. He started at quarterback for the University of Georgia for two years, was named MVP of the 1998 Outback Bowl and still holds the school’s single-season record for completion percentage. He knows a thing or two about the position.
“I’ve been where we played two quarterbacks before, I’ve been where we played just one,” Bobo said. “Nick’s got to get ready to play and when his number’s called he’s got to go out there and perform.”
Stevens refused to blame any struggles he has had on the murky situation at quarterback. He’s more concerned with correcting and limiting his own mistakes.
Bobo said he wants quarterbacks to do a better job anticipating throws. Don’t even worry about making those mistakes. But isn’t that a bit tougher when you know one poor decision could be the end of your day?
“I don’t feel like I’ve had a short leash at all,” Stevens said.
Despite all of the uncertainty, Stevens said he has always felt confident about his role this season, and understands why things are the way they are.
“I definitely have felt like the starter,” Stevens said. “There’s just been a couple of games where I wasn’t bringing it, and Coleman brought a spark that we needed on offense. I’ve just got to work on my own consistency, and being able to move the offense down the field on every drive to prevent that from happening.”
Bobo said Tuesday that it was Stevens who responded well with a solid two days of moving the offense in practice.
Stevens will get another opportunity Saturday, and no matter what he does with it, Key will probably get another opportunity as well.
Maybe this time around, it will go better for both. Boise State, Utah State and Minnesota are the best defenses CSU will face this season, and all three games are in the history books.
Or maybe the two-quarterback system will continue to underwhelm, and Rams fans will have to trust the process, even if that process is not always clear.
“We’ve played some talented defensive football teams,” Bobo said. “First-year starter with a new system. There’s growing pains. It’s more growing pains than I would like and this fanbase would like, but that’s part of it. We’ll get it right and we’ll have consistent quarterback play, I guarantee you that.”
Coleman Key was unavailable for comment after Tuesday’s practice.
Collegian Sports Editor Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @emccarthy22.