Quarterbacks Provide Contrast In Fiesta Matchup
Dec. 31, 2000
TEMPE, Ariz. - The Fiesta Bowl quarterbacks are as different as theprograms they represent.
Matt LoVecchio, the freshman who is 7-0 as a Notre Dame starter, stands6-feet-2, weighs 200 pounds and looks every inch a quarterback.
Jonathan Smith, the junior starter for 10-1 Oregon State, is 5-10 and looks,well, like the team manager.
That's exactly who Beavers coach Dennis Erickson thought he was the firsttime the two met.
'It's true. When he walked in I didn't know who he was. I really didn't,'Erickson said. 'He's the only quarterback that's my size. He says he's tallerthan I am, but I disagree.'
Smith, the quarterback who ended his team's NCAA record of 28 consecutivelosing seasons, wasn't wanted at Oregon State even when the Beavers werelosers.
He was a walk-on as a freshman in 1997, Mike Riley's first year as coach,and spent the season running the scout team.
Smith entered spring practice in 1998 as the No. 3 quarterback, but he movedup to the backup behind junior-college All-American Terrance Bryant. AgainstWashington, in his third game ever, Smith came off the bench to set a schoolrecord with 469 passing yards.
He's been the starter ever since.
But when Riley left to coach the San Diego Chargers and Erickson was hired,Smith had to battle for the job again. He beat out Bryant in spring practice,and has became the No. 2 passer, behind Erik Wilhelm, in Oregon State history.
'I never really got down,' Smith said. 'I continued to get encouragementfrom family and friends. I don't need the limelight. I like to sit in the filmroom and watch by myself. I just enjoy the game. I think that's what kept megoing a lot. I never gave up total hope. I held on to that light that maybe Ican do it.'
The Beavers are 18-8 with Smith as a starter. Last year, he set a schoolrecord with 3,053 passing yards. This year he ranked second in the Pac-10 inpassing efficiency, throwing for 2,468 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Smith is the easygoing leader on a team loaded with brash trash talkers. Heplays golf with Erickson and said the best thing about being in Arizona for 10days has been the money he's won from his teammates playing pool at the resortwhere the Beavers are staying.
Erickson said Smith's intelligence is his biggest asset.
'He knows the offense as well as we know it,' Erickson said. 'He is 5-10.That's a deficiency to some people. But he's smart, he understands what's goingon, he knows where to go with the ball, he knows exactly what we want. Thatmakes him very efficient.'
LoVecchio is one of three talented freshman quarterbacks that coach BobDavie recruited this season. Just 18 years old, he is quiet, calm andconfident.
All three freshmen were supposed to sit out this season as redshirts.LoVecchio was running the scout team.
But when Arnaz Battle broke his wrist in the second game of the season, anovertime loss to Nebraska, the Irish needed a new quarterback.
Sophomore Gary Godsey got the next two starts. But with his team 2-2 afterGodsey completed 4 of 15 passes in a loss to Michigan State, Davie gaveLoVecchio the job over the other two freshman contenders - Carlyle Holiday andJared Clark.
'He was probably a little more advanced in football, just X and O's,'Davie said. 'He was a guy who proved to us right off the bat that he wasunflappable, much more mature than the other two at that point.'
The Irish players and coaches were a little worried about turning theoffense over to such an inexperienced quarterback.
'You are going to have a little concern,' flanker Joey Getherall said.'The coaches were a little concerned. I don't think they knew how good he wasgoing to be, how great he was going to lead this team, how much confidence hewas going to have out there on the field.'
Davie has been careful not to ask his young quarterback to do too much,instead relying on the running game, defense and special teams.
'He hasn't had to do it by himself,' Davie said. 'Because of that, wehaven't asked him to just make unbelievable plays. As he gets more comfortable,as he matures, we'll probably put more on his plate.'
LoVecchio completed 58 percent of his passes for 980 yards and 11touchdowns. He's thrown 125 passes and only been intercepted once.
When he was at Bergen Catholic High School in Franklin Lakes, N.J., he livedjust down the street from Chris Sims, a close friend and now the starter atTexas. Both were highly recruited.
A walk through the famous South Bend campus made LoVecchio's choice ofschools an easy one.
'I visited a lot of different schools, and I just got a different feelingon campus, a feeling I couldn't describe,' LoVecchio said. 'I think NotreDame is the pinnacle of college football. Just to play here and be a part ofthis university is an extreme honor.'
By BOB BAUM
AP Sports Writer
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