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Et Two, Texas? The Dreaded Quarterback Controversy

When I queried Tennessee blogger Joel about writing a guest article for Burnt Orange Nation, I knew he'd have something useful to say for Texas fans as we prepare for the 2006 season. With Colt McCoy and Jevan Snead battling to replace Vince Young, many Longhorn faithful are dreading the quarterback controversy that defined the Chris Simms-Major Applewhite era at Texas. Joel's article below outlines some of the pitfalls that accompany handling two quarterbacks incorrectly. I urge you to read the accompanying case study on his own blog at View From Rockytop. Special thanks to Joel for this terrific piece.

Many thanks to Peter, who was kind enough to grant me some time at the esteemed BON podium to voice some thoughts on two quarterback systems from the perspective of the Unburnt Orange Nation.  Perhaps y'all were too busy enjoying your undefeated season last year, but I'm guessing that you probably also noticed the other UT's agonizing, season-long descent into oblivion.

The Tennessee post-mortem is ongoing, but it's pretty clear that one of the primary factors in our season of futility was our inability to settle on a single starting quarterback.  For the past couple of weeks, I've been reliving the agony by reviewing last season's VFRT posts and the articles to which they linked.  Out of that sadistic exercise emerged several principles that I feel a need to disseminate as a public service to others in the college football blogosphere.  Do not let this happen to you.  Not fun.

First up is a list of Rules Governing the Employment of 2QB Systems.  Next are the Early Warning Signs, a list of symptoms indicating a vulnerability to full-blown onset of that debilitating condition known as the Quarterback Controversy.  After that comes a summary of how these Rules and Signs played out on Rocky Top in 2005.  For the full version in all of its gory detail, true sadists can find the full post over at View from Rocky Top.

Rules Governing the Employment of 2QB Systems

  1. The Rule Against 2QB Systems.  With only two exceptions, 2QB systems should be avoided like the bird flu.
  2. The Evaluation Period Exception.  A 2QB system may be temporarily necessary to evaluate the available talent in game situations to determine which QB should be the long term starter.  The evaluation period should be as short as possible and should under no circumstances last longer than four or five games.
  3. The Epinephrine Exception.  Use of two QBs may be desirable on rare occasions when a starter is having a bad game and the team needs a change of pace and a kick in the britches.
  4. The Waffle Exception to the Epinephrine Exception.  You only get one shot of epi, and it should only be used with well-established starters whose confidence will not be shattered by the substitution.  Beware of the temptation to use it with recent winners of a quarterback duel.  If you absolutely must change your mind once a "final" decision has been made on a duel, YOU CANNOT DO IT AGAIN.  If you yank your first "final answer" QB because he's melted down, he'll no longer be a viable option, so stick with his replacement as long as he's anywhere in the vicinity of competent.

Early Warning Signs

If your team exhibits any of the following symptoms, do like Chicken Little and sound the alarm:

  • The Sideline Captain.  Beware of captains on sidelines.  In other words, do not underestimate the power of leadership and experience, and do not overestimate the promise of potential.
  • The Early Success.  Beware of early success using multiple QBs.  It only delays the inevitable.
  • The Rotation Scheme.  Beware of pre-planned rotation schemes.  Getting a backup reps in a game is all well and good, see e.g., D.J. Shockley, but pre-game plans to rotate QBs must be subject to change.  Do not commit to any systematic rotation of QBs, whether every other play, every other series, or every X number of series.  Never break game rhythm by pulling a QB when he's hot.  A team employing a rotation scheme is not only splitting game reps between two players, but is also surely splitting practice reps, which, instead of preparing both players for games, merely stunts the growth of both.

As you'll see below (or in the full post at VFRT), the 2005 Volunteers had all of the warning signs.  Sophomore Erik Ainge started the first game while team captain Rick Clausen stood on the sideline.  The coaching staff insisted on utilizing a Rotation Scheme "until one of them took the job," probably based on the Early Success they had with such a scheme during the Evaluation Period the prior season with Ainge and Brent Schaeffer.

In 2005, though, the Evaluation Period Exception was again instituted, but neither Ainge nor Clausen really "took" the job in either of the first two games.  Still, the coaches initially did not allow the evaluation to drag on, and they named Ainge "the starter" in the third game of the season against LSU.   Unfortunately, Ainge morphed into a mushroom cloud in LSU's end zone, and Clausen gave the team a much-needed shot of epi. The team then made another mistake by over-waffling, and when Clausen struggled a bit, they went back to the ruined Ainge, ruining Clausen as well.

Read the full Case Study: Two Quarterback Systems and the 2005 Tennessee Volunteers at View From Rocky Top.

Special thanks once again to Joel for this terrific piece. I strongly urge Longhorn fans to make the jump over to VFRT to read the Case Study of Tennessee.  Lots of important lessons as we prep for our own season.

Also, do keep an eye out for a somewhat different perspective in the coming weeks. Kyle from Dawg Sports is working on a piece about Georgia's experience with two quarterbacks.