Did CSU’s quarterback competition just reopen?

Emmett McCarthy

The depth chart will not change. Nick Stevens will line up with the first team offense come practice Monday. The sophomore earned the starting quarterback job and CSU head coach Mike Bobo is going to stand by him for good reason. 

CSU quarterback Nick Stevens was replaced by backup Coleman Key in a 23-20 loss to Minnesota. (Abbie Parr/Collegian)
CSU quarterback Nick Stevens was replaced by backup Coleman Key in a 23-20 loss to Minnesota. (Abbie Parr/Collegian)

In Garrett Grayson’s sophomore season, some CSU fans were clamoring for the former CSU signal caller to be benched in favor of Connor Smith following a disappointing loss in the Rocky Mountain Showdown. Jim McElwain was not going to give up on his guy that easily though. He stood by Grayson, and we saw how that turned out (it turned out really freaking well). But there is no denying what Coleman Key was able to get done Saturday against a proven Minnesota defense. “I was just trying to go out there and give us a chance,” Key said. “I wasn’t trying to do too much, try to be the hero and win us the ball game. I just wanted to give us a chance. My guys did a good job around me.” Particularly impressive was what he did on the final drive of regulation, leading the Rams downfield in just 55 seconds to set up the tying field goal. It was not just the result that was was noticeable, but the way that he handled pressure in the pocket. “Really, three plays in a row could have been sacks and probably been the ball game, but he kept it alive,” Bobo said. “Kept it alive on one play, threw it away. Kept it alive on another play, and then on fourth down he kept it alive and made a big play.” The coach said that his team did not execute its protections, turning defensive linemen free on the final possession. “We don’t have mobile quarterbacks, but you’ve got to have guys that can stand in there and sometimes shake guys off,” Bobo said. “And Coleman gave us that in that last drive.”

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Colorado State quarterback Coleman Key walks off the field after the Rams; 23-20 overtime loss to Minnesota Saturday. (Abbie Parr/Collegian)
Colorado State quarterback Coleman Key walks off the field after the Rams’ 23-20 overtime loss to Minnesota Saturday. (Amanda Garcia/Collegian)

Meanwhile, Stevens had to watch from the sideline. After a shaky outing, Key had replaced him in the third quarter. “Obviously, I’d rather be out there but it was great to see (Key) go out there and have some success,” Stevens said. “It really got our sideline pumped up and was able to give us some needed momentum in the game.” Despite naming Stevens the starter during fall camp, Bobo made it clear prior to the season that he would make sure Key saw plenty of action as well. “Honestly, when I got in the game I did not feel a lot of pressure,” Key said. “Being the backup, you’ve always got to be prepared to go in.” The composure he showed was still impressive for a second-string freshman quarterback though. “Coaches do a good job of putting a lot of pressure on us in practice, so when we come out to the games, it’s not too overbearing on us,” Key said. He went 8-for-13 for 91 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Stevens was 8-for-19 for 51 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions when he left the game.  Key made some big throws to rejuvenate the offense, and gave CSU a chance to win in overtime. But he was not without his flaws either. “I don’t want to sit here and say there is a quarterback controversy,” Bobo said. “Both (quarterbacks) missed guys that were wide open. We have got to play better all around.” So for now, Stevens will remain the starter. Key was the solution Saturday, but he will still start this week of practice with the second team offense. No matter who is getting the action on game day, the two plan to help each other improve at every turn. “I think it speaks to our maturity,” Key said. “We’re out here trying to learn. It’s not about me or him, it’s about the team. We’re just trying to win. He’s trying to help me, and when I’m on the sidelines, I’m trying to help him.” Key showed a lot of poise against Minnesota, appearing to reopen the quarterback competition. But that was one subject he did not care to talk about after the game. “That’s not up to me,” Key said when asked about the starting job. “That’s up to Coach Bobo.” Collegian Sports Editor Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @emccarthy22.