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Two is a crowd

By Seth Doria
Arizona Daily Wildcat
August 24, 1998
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Seth Doria

As school sets in, there is one lesson above all that the football coaching staff needs to learn: Two is not better than one.

Not when you're talking about starting quarterbacks, anyway.

The latest report is that head coach Dick Tomey is planning on using both Ortege Jenkins and Keith Smith as rotating starters through the fifth week of the season.

That means the Wildcats will head into their toughest game of the year, an Oct. 3 matchup against Washington in Seattle, without a clear leader.

Jenkins has already said he thinks a quarterback needs to get into a confident groove before the season starts, and that splitting time in practice and games prevents that.

Playing quarterback seems to require just as much mental preparation as physical. It doesn't matter how long or accurate someone can throw the ball if he loses his cool in crucial situations.

Look at Ohio State last year. They had all the talent necessary to beat anybody, but lost close games on the road against Penn State and Michigan. If you take a look at how those two games ended, a lot of blame can be placed on both Joe Germaine and Stanley Jackson, the Buckeyes' interchangeable quarterback duo.

Playing against Michigan's top-rated defense last year could make any quarterback look bad, but both Jackson and Germaine had chances toward the end of the game to win and didn't seem to have the mental toughness to get it done.

But not all of the blame should go to the quarterback.

Imagine standing on the sidelines as your team gets the ball, needing a touchdown in the last minute to keep an undefeated season alive. And you don't even know if you or the other guy is going to get in the game.

How prepared mentally could you possibly be?

Proponents of the double quarterback system have said that the pressure just makes the players better, makes them work harder in practice.

Of course they have to work harder. Each one has to share the number of snaps they get with the first team, but that doesn't mean they'll play better once the season rolls around.

And the problem isn't just limited to how the quarterbacks feel. Making 11 guys work as a team against another 11 guys requires a whole lot of timing.

The offensive line needs to know the quarterback's tendency to roll out. The receivers need to know the quarterback's timing. The running backs, well, they don't really care who hands them the ball, but you get the point.

Evidence of this problem came in full force during Friday night's scrimmage.

Both Smith and Jenkins played tentative as the scrimmage started. It was almost as if they were thinking of how not to screw up instead of just playing.

While Jenkins came out of the funk and finished with decent numbers, his throws were still consistently low, something I've been told is often due to someone overthrowing the ball.

Smith never really did recover, finishing with only one completion in six attempts. This is from a guy who set the school record for completion rate (60.6 percent) as a freshman in 1996.

Friday's scrimmage and the numbers can easily be discarded as just first game jitters, but how does Tomey know those jitters will end within the 10 days the team has to prepare for the season opener at Hawaii, Sept. 3?

A loss to Hawaii could devastate the entire season, much like the loss to Oregon did last year.

It's well established that both quarterbacks could start and do well at virtually every school in the country, and to say to one of them that they will be a backup will be a tough job for Tomey.

But personal feelings aside, when you have two guys worrying about playing time as your starting quarterbacks, neither one can really be as good as his potential.

Tomey and his staff would be a lot better served picking a guy and then having the best backup in the league.


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