Brooks: ‘Mac,’ Liufau Adjust Weekend QB Picture

BOULDER – There’s no doubt about Oregon’s starting quarterback Saturday when the third-ranked Ducks look to strengthen their College Football Playoff positioning against the Colorado Buffaloes.

That would be Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Mariota, as clear-cut a choice as there could be among all interested parties in Ducksville. Meanwhile, the quarterback picture is slightly more muddled in the Buffs camp – or maybe not.

Five QB conclusions drawn Tuesday from CU coach Mike MacIntyre’s weekly news conference:

·       Sophomore starter Sefo Liufau will play if cleared;

·       Sophomore backup Jordan Gehrke will play either some or significantly;

·       Liufau could make his 11th start of the season, Gehrke could make the first start of his CU career;

·       If Gehrke starts and plays because Liufau can’t, walk-on freshman Ty Gangi moves into the disaster backup role, leaving scholarship freshman Cade Apsay safely in his redshirt;

·       MacIntyre will start the ablest and most physically sound QB who gives the Buffs the best chance to shock the college football world.

Getting Gehrke experience in CU’s final two games, MacIntyre added, would be nice but is not imperative: “We’re going to play the guy that’s ready to play. All the experience helps, but we’re always looking to play the guy that can help us win the game that Saturday. That’s how we look at it.”

Liufau said every player, regardless of his position on the depth chart, benefits from experience, but added, “I think people always want to turn it (at QB) into a competition. But it’s a team sport. Obviously each person wants to play, but – I guess it’s a corny saying – but you’re only as good as your weakest link. Everybody needs to be on the same level. Jordan needs to be just as prepared as me.”

Liufau’s health became an issue in the fourth quarter of the Buffs’ 38-20 loss at Arizona on Nov. 8. He suffered his first concussion after throwing his second interception of the game (fourth turnover total) and went to the locker room. Gehrke finished out the evening, but didn’t have a completion in five attempts.

Held out of practice last week while waiting to clear the concussion protocol, Liufau was asked by a reporter Tuesday how he felt. “I’m feeling pretty well, how about yourself?” he answered, showing his wit remains intact.

“I’m feeling good,” Liufau continued. “I passed all the concussion testing and am ready to play this week.” He said he believed he was cleared on Sunday: “It took a week or so, a week and a half. I’m just happy to be concussion-free, just for life in general.”

Asked how much Gehrke might play against the once-beaten (9-1) Ducks, MacIntyre answered, “We’re going to find out as the week goes on, with Sefo’s situation. He was able to do a little bit more (Tuesday) but he’s still not completely one hundred percent cleared but we think he will be. So we’ll see how the week goes along and how that progresses and what we do for Saturday.”

Any uncertainty in CU’s QB situation, MacIntyre continued, is overshadowed by concern for his players’ health: “It’s all about looking at (Liufau’s) health and every situation . . . looking at everything we’re doing and finding the best way to win this Saturday. He wasn’t able to practice at all last week; we’ll see how rusty he is and look at it from there as we go forward . . . all the guys that play for us are guys I stand behind. Period. If they’re starters, backups, I believe in all of them. They all understand that and know that. I do what’s best for our team on that Saturday to help them win the football game.”

While Gehrke’s seasonal stat sheet is almost bare – 11-of-26 passing, 106 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions in three games; five rushes, 18 yards, one TD – Liufau has had a record-setting sophomore season. Needing 315 passing yards to become CU’s all-time single season leader, if Liufau is healthy and achieves that mark, it would line up alongside seven other school seasonal or single-game records he’s set in 2014.

He’s completed 298 of 453 passes for 2,842 yards and 26 TDs, with 14 interceptions. He’s fifth in the Pac-12 in passing yards per game (284.2) and sixth in total offense (296.2 yards a game).

Liufau acknowledges that he and his backup are different quarterbacks, noting that Gehrke “brings a lot to the table, some things that I can’t even bring. Obviously he’s faster than me, you can’t deny that. I can’t run a 4.4 (40-yard dash) or anything like that. It’s good for the team, it’s good for him.”

MacIntyre said the 6-1, 195-pound Gehrke “runs a little better” and “has better feet” than the 6-4, 230-pound Liufau. However, Gehrke’s height makes him “shorter in the pocket so you have to move him in the pocket a little more,” MacIntyre added.

Liufau indicated that QB conjecture is more of a barroom/chat room than locke room issue. “I think people are trying to make a bigger deal out of it than it is,” he said. “So, both of us are going to play (Saturday) and that’s just how it’s going to be. I still expect both of us to play at a high level and help the offense itself.”

Sharing time, he added, causes no undue worry over his job: “I just want to focus on healing from the concussion and focus on Oregon. Whatever reps you get, whether that be in practice in the summer or in games, you just want to do the best you can and control what you can control. Ultimately, the coach makes the decision and you just want to play the best every time you get (the chance).”

A decision on playing time likely will be a game-day decision, said Liufau, based on what transpires with his health and the next two days in practice. “Nobody on the coaching staff has made a big deal about anything,” he said. “It’s just been a normal week. Obviously, I think we’re splitting more reps. We want to make sure I don’t have any more relapses on my concussion, but it’s just fine.”

Everyone who takes CU’s center snaps in Eugene Saturday afternoon (2:37 p.m. MST, Pac-12 Networks) will share the same goal: lead the Buffs to their first Pac-12 win of 2014. CU is on a seven-game conference losing streak (10 dating to last season) and is 2-8 overall. The Buffs have lost 18 straight to ranked opponents and 23 to ranked foes on the road.   

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU