Buffs Coaches Want To See 'Separation' In QB Battle
BOULDER — When it comes to selecting a starting quarterback, the Colorado Buffaloes' coaching staff appears to be following the wisdom of UCLA basketball coaching legend John Wooden:
"Be quick but don't hurry."
The Buffs must indeed be quick in the process. They have only a few weeks to make a choice that usually involves spring practice, summer drills and study sessions, and a fall camp.
But neither can they hurry the process. Despite not having been afforded the luxury of roughly six months of evaluation, CU head coach Karl Dorrell and quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf must do their best to make sure they have the right guy, which means jamming months of careful and close evaluation into a couple of weeks.
It's a delicate balance they must manage in order to still have some time to prepare their starter for the Nov. 7 season opener against UCLA at Folsom Field.
Monday morning, Langsdorf told the media he would like to have a starter "as soon as possible."
But that almost certainly won't come until he and Dorrell have a chance to see the candidates in a scrimmage situation. The first scrimmage of camp is scheduled Saturday.
"We'd like to have somebody separate quickly by outperforming the other guy," Langsdorf said. "As soon as that shows up, we'll make a decision. But right now, being in four days without a scrimmage, it's a little tough to tell. I think as we get into more and more situational football, that stuff is a little easier to evaluate and make a decision, But it's a close competition so we don't want to rush it. At the same time we want to get going and get the guy that's going to be the starter most of the reps ready to play a game."
One thing Langsdorf did make clear Monday is that the competition has already been boiled down to a battle between veterans Tyler Lytle and Sam Noyer, with true freshman Brendon Lewis biding his time.
Of course, the term "veteran" for Noyer and Lytle is more apt for their class status, not their actual experience. They have spent their careers in Boulder playing behind established starters, patiently awaiting a bona fide chance to compete for the job.
Noyer is a senior who switched to safety last season, then announced his plans to transfer after the year was over. He earned his degree and had even moved back to his home state of Oregon when he got a call from CU coaches, asking if he wouldn't be interested in returning to Boulder — as a quarterback.
His total collegiate experience at the position consists of nine games with 41 pass attempts.
Lytle is a junior who looked to be the clear favorite heading into this season until Noyer chose to return. Lytle's game experience in college consists of seven appearances with six pass attempts.
Thus, while both are upperclassmen with plenty of experience in the program, their game experience has been minimal — and it's the first time that either has been involved in a true quarterback competition since arriving in Boulder.
"The concern I have is the experience in playing games," Langsdorf said. "That is invaluable. It's hard to simulate experience. Even in scrimmages, they're not getting hit … They have some experience with the season, how fall camp goes, how game week goes, how preparation goes. But neither of them have played a lot of football. We may have some growing pains here and there, and we're going to try to eliminate that as best we can and get them up to speed."
After four practices, the two have split reps with the No. 1 offense. Both have had good moments, but as Langsdorf said, there has been no separation between the two to this point. That could come as early as Saturday's scrimmage — and that will be just three weeks before the season opener.
Langsdorf said the evaluation process is a combination of objective and subjective analysis.
The former includes practice and scrimmage statistics — completion percentage, turnovers, decision-making grades, etc. Those are areas that can be quantified.
But CU coaches will also be looking carefully at areas that aren't easily measured in statistics — such things as command in the huddle, taking signals from the sideline, processing information and directing traffic accordingly.
Those are things that coaches judge by putting the quarterbacks in "pressure situations" in practice.
"We have a pressure period, we have a red zone period with third downs," Langsdorf said. "We try to put them in different situations where they have to get us in the right play, get us in the right protection, get rid of the ball quickly, make the right read and make a tight-window throw in the red zone. There's a lot of different things we're evaluating."
CU coaches are also trying to get Lewis as many reps as possible, but with such a small window of preparation, that's a task that isn't easy.
Still, Buffs coaches like what they see from the highly touted freshman.
"I've been really pleased with his command and knowledge," Langsdorf said. "He asks good questions. When he goes in there, he doesn't act like a freshman. Not having spring ball didn't help him … He's really raw, but I've been pleased with how confident he is. He speaks confidently, he moves guys around, he barks out the cadence and calls. He hasn't gotten as much work as you'd like to get for the third[string guy yet because of how we've been dealing with 1 and 2 right now, but I like where he's at. He's going to be a good player."
Once the Buffs do have a starter, they can continue the process of tailoring the offense to fit his particular strengths. Langsdorf said that shouldn't take an inordinate amount of time.
"As we install, we're putting in a pretty big menu of things that kind of benefit both guys," he said. "As we go further into game planning, we tend to narrow that down a little bit and cater it toward our opponent, but also to the quarterback. If we've got a guy that's really good throwing a particular route compared to the other guy, we'll do more of those. If we've got a better runner than the other, then we might feature more quarterback runs. I don't think it takes too long if initially our menu is big enough. We will be able to transition that quickly once we make a decision."