Dual-quarterback situations -- ones in which the head coach either can't make up his mind or thinks it's a good idea to play two players in one game -- often end poorly for the team which has to handle such a scenario. Why does this happen with such regularity?
The natural and most immediate answer is that if the coach can't make a clear-cut decision, he's probably unconvinced that either player has what it takes. In other words, an unresolved (or intentionally allowed) two-quarterback situation often manifests itself as a battle between mediocre or inadequate candidates. That's the bigger truth behind the notion that two-quarterback situations don't work: There's no genuinely compelling No. 1 option, so there's no need to announce or cling to a starter while relegating the other man to a backup slot. In most cases, dual-quarterback scenarios don't flow from the high quality of the No. 2 man, but from the lack of high-end precision on the part of the No. 1 quarterback. That distinction matters... and it flows into Army's season opener at Temple on Friday night in Philadelphia.
First, a brief word about the Kizer-Zaire competition at Notre Dame, which will continue into the Sept. 4 season opener for the Fighting Irish at Texas: Brian Kelly has been generally happy with the performances of both of his quarterbacks -- not completely satisfied, but largely approving. In that battle, it's not as though the No. 1 guy is failing; that's the comparatively rarer case of the No. 2 man being legitimately good. It's viewed by many as the exception which proves the rule in two-quarterback situations. If both men are playing well, why would Kelly deprive the No. 2 quarterback of a chance to play? If No. 2 is making such a contribution, why is he not taking the field for meaningful snaps?
The simple point about Notre Dame: It might not be a bad thing to have two quality quarterbacks taking the field -- perhaps for different scripted plays, perhaps with different goals in mind, perhaps on alternating series, perhaps even on alternating plays?
There are different ways to arrange and manage a two-quarterback situation, for one thing, but the bigger point is that if it happens to be the rare instance in which both quarterbacks are performing well in practice (as opposed to being a battle in which neither man can play well enough to get the starting nod), this becomes a matter of more resources, not fewer. An elevated dual-quarterback race is a very different thing from a mediocre dual-quarterback situation.
You're probably at a point where you're wondering: So, what's the connection to Army?
Very simply, this question is the one which has to be asked -- and which Jeff Monken has to answer on Friday: Does Army have a Notre Dame-style QB derby in which the Black Knights have more of a good thing, or is the Ahmad Bradshaw-Chris Carter competition more defined by the inability of either player to take the job with two hands?
The answer to that question means everything, does it not? If Army has two players who need to be on the field, Monken should put both on the field against Temple. If Monken is more inwardly unsure about this matter than he's letting on in public, he should ride one player for a full half and then see where his team is at halftime.
Here's the deeper context of this situation: Monken isn't playing quarterbacks in a vacuum; he must handle this issue based on the opponent his team is facing.
Temple -- with a returning head coach (Matt Rhule) and defensive coordinator (Phil Snow) -- is coming off a brilliant defensive season. In 2015, the Owls bottled up Paxton Lynch and Memphis; they legitimately contained Kizer and Notre Dame; they sacked Christian Hackenberg of Penn State 10 times; and they legitimately kept Houston's turbo-charged offense in check, limiting UH to just 24 points. The offense sputtered in that same game against Houston and then in the Boca Raton Bowl against Toledo, but the defense represented the best the Owls had to offer. Army's defense could realistically turn in a respectable showing against the Owls' ho-hum offense. The matchup between Army's offense and Temple's defense is where the Black Knights need to make their mark. It's also what will determine if they win this game or not.
How much does Monken trust Bradshaw and Carter? Will he give the first-series starter the ability to play his way into a rhythm (at least three series), or will he use a quick trigger? Will he put one quarterback under center and put the other at wide receiver? Will he rotate the two players by series or by half... or by play? (Steve Spurrier of Florida rotated Noah Brindise and Doug Johnson on a per-play basis for much of a 32-29 upset of Florida State in 1997.)
These are the decisions Monken must make... and we haven't even touched on play selection. The Army offensive staff must entrust each quarterback with bold ball plays that show confidence in each's abilities. Playing both quarterbacks for 30 minutes but giving a fat playbook to only one of them would not reveal faith in both players. That's not necessarily wrong, but if Monken really does believe he has two great quarterbacks -- more of everything -- he'll make sure both players get to throw the ball, run gadgets, and use every skill in their arsenals.
Does Army have a Notre Dame situation, or a typical dual-quarterback situation? We'll find out on the merits of each man's performance... and in the content of each decision Jeff Monken makes (or approves) on Friday night.