Two types of quarterbacks

After a Jake Heaps-led offense managed 13 points against the Aggie defense in the first half, backup quarterback Riley Nelson took over late in the third quarter and led the offense to 14 points and a come-from-behind victory. The gutsy performance has raised many questions and concerns, but the success by one quarterback in a single half doesn't mean future offensive success will come any easier.

There is no question that when Riley Nelson entered the game against Utah State, the Aggie defenders were quickly put back on their heels. Nelson's tough and gritty performance running the ball to keep drives alive, while improvising through the air, stressed an Aggie defense that had planned for a drop-back quarterback.

"Oh, I'm sure it's very difficult, as you saw in that Texas game when we've played quarterbacks like that before," safety Travis Uale explained. "We weren't really ready and, you know, our gap responsibility weren't all intact. When that first quarterback was kind of taken out when we were playing against Texas, and the other came in and he was sort of a runner it, was harder for us.

"That's exactly what came to my mind during the [Utah State] game when Riley came in and he was having success. I feel that when you're preparing for one quarterback and then you get another, it's really difficult to adjust."

With limited time and only a few days of preparation each week to plan for upcoming opponents, the introduction of a new quarterback creates a challenge for a defense. The defense must quickly understand on the fly how the offense changes and what the new offensive dynamics and strengths are.

When the new quarterback is a mobile one, that creates a whole new set of problems for the defense.

"I'm not too sure if it's a mental adjustment, as to you have to make sure you're plastering the backfield, and you gotta make sure you can tackle up front," Uale said. "Because as you saw in the Utah State quarterback, he also got away from us a few times. You just have to make sure you can wrap up and tackle the guy also."

For many, facing a mobile quarterback is much more difficult than facing a pocket passer.

"I prefer playing against a pocket quarterback, so I can just worry about the pass a lot more," Uale said with a smile. "It's easier."

However, it's only easier when one knows what to expect and can prepare for it. The preparation and focus for a rushing quarterback is different than that for a passing quarterback.

"Talking about the Central Florida quarterback [Jeff Godfrey], it was a great test for us to know that we were able to do some things against him and defend him, although he did have a good game against us," Uale said.

Much like the success the Texas offense had against the Cougars when backup quarterbacks Case McCoy and David Ashe substituted in for starting quarterback Garrett Gilbert, Utah State struggled against Nelson in similar fashion. However, other teams will now be more prepared to face Nelson.

"Sure, I think it will be a lot easier for other teams to adjust to Riley now that they know that he can possibly come in and possibly make a big difference," said Uale. "Then again, he is a great athlete and he can come in and make plays, so no matter how you prepare for him, you have to respect his ability to make plays."

So while Cougar fans might look to quickly replace one Cougar quarterback for another, one thing needs to be kept in mind: defenses will be much more aware of the strengths Nelson brings to the field, and they will also be much more aware of his weaknesses.

"Jake is respected just as much as Riley," Uale said. "I mean, they're both great, great competitors and they're both great quarterbacks, although they both have different styles. Who is liked more? I don't think one is liked more than the other. I think we all treat each other as teammates and, like we have on the back of our shirts, we all treat each other like brothers."

"He's just a guy that plays hard," said center Terence Brown about Nelson. "He's not 6'2", he doesn't have an arm that can throw the ball 80 yards, but the dude's got a heart and he just plays hard."

Much like the Texas and Ole Miss coaches did with their quarterbacks, the Cougar coaching staff is going to switch out players when needed to try and give their team an edge to win football games. Oftentimes it becomes more about the team rather than about a single player, and for last week's game, it was Nelson's turn to help determine the outcome.

"Whoever the coaches put in, [we support]," Uale said. "We trust our coaches that they're going to make the right decision to put us in the right situations to win the football game, so, you know, the only quarterback I'm worried about right now is the San Jose State quarterback."

"I don't think you try and play Division I football and play 80 percent or 70 percent," Brown said. "Jake plays really hard and his heart is with us, and whatever shortcomings – or whatever people want to call it – happen, it's not because he doesn't care or doesn't love us, and we know that. Coach will make the best decision and we'll play hard. If both guys are playing, great. If one is playing, great. That will all work out and we'll just play."


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