Thursday, September 10, 2009

2 QB's = 0? Bunk, says I! (Also, A Side Note On Denard vs. Tate)

You've probably heard the old football adage, "When you've got two quarterbacks, you've really got none." This is a popular saying for a reason, as the platoon QB system has largely not been successful throughout the history of college football (the most recent somewhat successful platoon that I can recall is a freshman Tim Tebow and Chris Leak at Florida). As there can only be one QB on the field at a time, having 2 viable QB's on a team often leads to the dreaded quarterback controversy. The most obvious reason for the unpopularity of a 2 QB system is that having two QB's decentralizes leadership on the offense, and a team divided cannot stand, as this trailblazing penguin playfully delineates:

It's the same reason we don't have co-presidents, and why there can only be one Highlander. The second reason is that football, like all sports, is a beautiful game of momentum. By constantly switching QBs neither is able to ride said momentum and get into a rhythm. Lastly, having two QB's is especially problematic when your QB's are of a similar mold and skill set because they are both vying for the exact same job, but alas there can only be one.

This last point is where conventional wisdom takes a back seat, and this is where Michigan's situation is unique to your garden variety 2 QB system. It is clear that though these players are both true freshman Michigan quarterbacks, their roles differ significantly in the offense. With Denard's dynamic gamebreaking ability and blazing speed, a coach cannot keep his most deadly weapon on the sideline. Offensive Coordinator Calvin Magee has stated that he prefers a game-changing home run hitter like Denard, whereas Coach Rod prefers a stable, effective, well-rounded but maybe not as dynamic presence such as Tate at QB. Obviously, the head coach is certainly the head coach, and the decision ends with him. But it is hard to argue with the success that RR had at WVU with Pat White, to whom Denard has drawn frequent comparisons with his blazing speed (Magee states that Denard might even be faster than White). And make no mistake, Denard is not as weak as college football's all-time leader in total yardage Pat White was in the passing game. However, having enrolled during the fall, Denard is not as comfortable with the offense and the plays called while he was in the game were obviously very limited to the "Denard, try and burn somebody" plays. The statistical probability that Denard breaks one big dramatically increases the more snaps he gets. So why not play Denard all the time? Well, that's because your other QB option is Tate Forcier.

Tate is a better all-around QB, having been groomed since his youth by infamous QB coach Marv Marinovich. He is a polished passer, is very accurate, and has solid fundamentals and ballfakes. Also, by enrolling in the spring, Tate's options with the playbook, his comfort with the offense in addition to his comfort with the players far exceeds Denard's. He can hurt you on the ground with his mobility, and he can also hurt you in the air, as he proved last weekend.

So which do you go with, and how much do you play each? Would you rather play it conservative and throw body punches for the entire match and wait it out, or would you come out of the gate throwing haymakers? So says the Michigan coaching staff, why not do both? As expected, against WMU Tate got roughly twice the snaps that Denard got. Also as expected, Tate got his multiple touchdowns in the air, whereas Denard's touchdown came on a broken play where he did something incredible. I would expect to see the coaching staff maintain this ratio barring any injuries, but I would be dismayed if I didn't see the playbook open up for Denard as the season goes along. Also, the spread option offense is predicated on creating mismatches and getting your best players into space and making huge plays. With that in mind, Denard has to see the field in a variety of ways. Hopefully the coaches will cook up some wrinkles to get Denard onto the field when he's not playing QB. You'll see something exciting either way, so I'd just sit back and calmly (yeah right) enjoy watching how this interesting season will unfold.

The leadership issue is still relevant, as both these players are quarterbacks. However, given their youth, neither Tate nor Denard will most likely be the ones that the team turns to as their rock of experience in the dying seconds of the game. This role will be shared with the quarterbacks by the more senior members of the team. So I wouldn't worry too much about the platoon QB system here decentralizing leadership, since it's already pretty much decentralized with all the youth we have on the team. As far as the rhythm argument goes, both these quarterbacks are young, both have proven themselves and have excelled in camp, and both have earned their shot at the big time. Coach Rod is a firm believer inter-positional competition, and he has stated that if he has two quarterbacks he think he can win with, he'll play 'em both. Rhythm be damned! So there you go.


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