Burning Questions about BYU's Quarterback Dilemma

After the quarterback carousel of the 2003 season, BYU fans wonder which quarterback <b>Gary Crowton</b> will start this fall. Indeed, the quarterback dilemma is an even hotter topic of debate as spring ball draws to a close.

Whether Crowton names a quarterback starter right after the Blue & White spring game, don't expect the debate to end anytime soon. Crowton said recently he may name a starter after the spring game, adding it would be a "loose" decision still subject to change before the fall season begins.

The number of practice or scrimmage snaps each quarterback receives with the first, second or third string units is a strong indicator of where Crowton has them slotted now. The contenders:

* Junior Matt Berry, 6-6, 230 pounds, and sophomore John Beck, 6-2, 200 pounds, receive the majority of first team reps during spring practice.

* Junior college transfer Jason Beck, 6-2 and 205 pounds, receives most of the second team reps against the second and third team defense – and limited reps with the first team offense.

* Senior Todd Mortensen, 6-5 and 220 pounds, and Junior Jackson Brown, at 6-4, 220 pounds, get most of the remaining against the second and third team defenses.

The four burning questions to be answered are:

1. Will Crowton give the starting nod to an inexperienced quarterback?

After enduring two losing seasons in a row, BYU fans are rightfully impatient about putting a winning product on the field. Consequently, inexperience at quarterback will no longer be a viable excuse for losing, especially since Crowton has invested the last two seasons in giving vital game experience younger quarterbacks on the roster.

You can take this to the bank: Crowton will not allow BYU fans to endure the growing pains of grooming yet another inexperienced quarterback in 2004 – as he strives to keep his job and post a winning season. In my opinion, experience will be the single greatest factor in determining who will be the opening game quarterback starter this fall.

Frontrunners: Matt Berry and John Beck are easily the favorites to win the starting nod. Both have gained invaluable experience prior to this season and know the playbook. Berry has the edge in actual game experience. He has thrown more than twice as many passes as any other candidate in 15 career starts. Beck has also positioned himself as a prime contender after shaking off the LDS mission rust in 2003 playing in eight games last season as a true freshman. It's going to be a great race between these two quarterbacks.

BECK, John Games Played 8 Eff. rating (2003) 104.88 Completions-attempts 73-145 50.3 TD - INT ratio 5-5 Total Yards 864

BERRY, Matt Games Played 8 Eff. rating (2003) 112.12 Comp.-attempts 147-235 62.6 TD - INT ratio 7-14 Total Yards 1445

The X Factor: Crowton recruited Jason Beck because he brings 22 games of starting experience from the JC ranks over the last two seasons. Comparatively speaking, John Beck and Berry combined have played in just 23 games over three seasons.

Jason Beck's biggest disadvantages are that he is not being as familiar with the BYU playbook and has limited playing experience with Cougar personnel. However, you can be sure Crowton will not hesitate to play battle-tested Jason if the top two contenders falter or are inexplicably downed by broken bones in their hands as they were last year.

The Longshots: Mortensen and Brown both have very limited game experience, which severely hampers their chances of winning the starting job. In fact, Brown has only 18 career pass attempts and Mortensen just 77 career attempts. Barring unforeseen injuries, neither quarterback will receive serious consideration to be named the starter against USC since Crowton has already invested so much playing time with Berry and John Beck over the past two seasons.

In other words, the risk of starting them when more experienced players are available is too great for Crowton to seriously consider in such an important season.

Outlook: Crowton will stick with his two-year "investment" with either John Beck or Berry as his primary starters. However, he will likely encourage Jason Beck's progression as insurance in case the offensive line doesn't adequately protect the two favorites.

2. Does Crowton prefer a mobile quarterback or a pure pocket passer to run his offense?

Crowton has shown in the past that he can succeed by utilizing either a mobile quarterback or a pure pocket passer. Let's look back on a couple of Crowton's previous quarterbacks to help answer this question.

While head coach at Louisiana Tech in 1998, Crowton tutored pure pocket passer Tim Rattay to an incredible season. Rattay threw for 4,943 yards and 46 touchdowns, including a 590 yard game against the defending national champion Nebraska. A season like that at BYU would be good for second all-time in throwing yards to Ty Detmer (5,188) and touchdowns thrown to Jim McMahon (47).

Except for one recent season, Crowton has tended to rely on pass-heavy offenses throughout his college coaching career, producing mixed results. Crowton has confidence his offense can succeed with a pure pocket passer based upon his coaching success at Louisiana Tech.

Conversely, Crowton has also enjoyed recent success using a more balanced offensive attack and a mobile quarterback in BYU quarterback Brandon Doman in 2001. In fact, his balanced attack was so effective that BYU led the nation in scoring, averaging 46.8 points per game during the regular season. A significant advantage was having mobile play-making Doman create numerous positive gains out of broken plays. Doman's exceptional play made Crowton look like a genius. The memory of this highly successful balanced offense has to be at the forefront of Crowton's mind.

History has thus shown that Crowton can build a potent offense with either a pure pocket passer or a mobile quarterback. In my opinion, Crowton prefers a mobile quarterback over a pure pocket passer for several reasons:

* First, with the inexperience of this season's offensive line in mind, Crowton realizes that starting a mobile quarterback together with the influx of excellent playmaking receivers can more effectively negate the inevitable mistakes by the big hogs up front.

Second, Crowton has witnessed firsthand in his three-year BYU tenure that several opposing quarterbacks of the mobile kind have had career days against BYU's defense (Chance Harridge and Bradlee Van Pelt).

* Finally, ever since Doman graduated, Crowton misses and covets the extra dimension a mobile quarterback provides in his offense. This is evidenced by his persistent attempts at running the option the last two years without the ideal quarterbacking personnel to execute it efficiently.

Outlook: I believe John Beck has the mobility and talent to run Crowton's complete offense and will begin this season as the designated starter. However, if BYU loses a couple of games early because of Beck turnovers, look for Crowton to turn to Berry if his throwing hand is fully healed. Berry, however, is not nearly as mobile as Beck. Moreover, if the offensive line struggles to protect the quarterback causing QB injuries or ineffectiveness, Crowton probably won't hesitate to bring in Jason Beck as a future starter.

3. Does Jason Beck have a legitimate chance to beat out Berry or John Beck as the opening game starter?

Barring injury, I don't think Jason Beck will beat out Berry or John Beck in the season-opener against USC. Jason was signed from the College of the Canyons this year primarily to provide depth to an otherwise thin position. In fact, Crowton stated even before he recruited Jason Beck that he would only recruit a JC quarterback if he thought he could help the team more than the fourth-stringer at that time.

Crowton learned a painful lesson last season about the consequences of not having sufficient quarterback depth and recruited Jason in order to fill the void. Additionally, there are other reasons why Jason Beck will not win the starting job against USC:

* First, Beck will not be adequately prepared to become the opening game starter in 2004 because of the complexity of Crowton's offense. His inexperience with BYU's playbook and probably will not allow him enough time to surpass either Berry or John Beck.

* Secondly, Jason Beck's lack of accuracy as a passer will hold him back from winning the job. Last year, he had a 53 percent completion percentage at the JC level. Don't expect the jump in competition to the Div. 1 level to improve that percentage. Unless Jason proves he is head and shoulders better than John Beck and Berry in practice, he will not be the opening game starter in 2004.

On a positive note, Jason Beck proved at the JC level that he is a competitor and winner. In fact, he led College of the Canyons to an 11-1 record after a perfect regular season in 2003. He also performed admirably in not turning the ball, throwing for 12 touchdowns and only three interceptions. But perhaps his biggest asset is his mobility and creativity on the run shown by his 400 yards plus rushing last season. In fact, his head coach at College of the Canyons, Chuck Lyon, stated, "The thing I like about Jason is just his competitive nature. The way the ball comes out, you wouldn't call him a quarterback. But he's an older guy and our guys believe in him."

Outlook: I believe Jason Beck will start the season as the third-string quarterback. However, he will likely receive some playing time because of his mobility in special situations -- especially if Crowton is unhappy with the offensive scoring production of both John Beck and Matt Berry.

4. What effect will the return of Ben Olson have on the quarterback depth chart for 2005?

Olson, the No. 1 rated nationally quarterback out of high school in 2001, will likely be automatically moved up to No. 2 on the quarterback depth chart following his LDS mission.

After BYU landed Olson, the pressure was intense for Crowton to play Olson in 2002 and he had to exercise a lot of self-control to redshirt him during that dismal 5-7 season.

Crowton had to be drooling, wondering what he could do with the physical gifts that Olson possesses after coaching the nation's leading offense in 2001. Combine the fact that Olson has been unofficially anointed as the BYU quarterback of the future and the level of talent he possesses, Crowton will, in my opinion, make the decision to move him up to No. 2 on the depth chart.

In contrast to 2002, Olson's eligibility clock will run in 2005 with no redshirt year to spare and the pressure to play him will become significantly magnified. In an effort to get Olson some game experience, Crowton will be forced to move a couple of the more experienced and perhaps deserving quarterbacks down on the depth chart to accommodate him. The fallout of such a move will be left to speculation.

Outlook: As long as Olson returns to BYU, he will likely shake up the depth chart from day one. However, don't expect his official reign as the starter to begin until at the earliest 2006. He will likely still need one year after his LDS mission to become the quarterback great everyone expects he will be.

Summary: Either John Beck and Matt Berry have the clear inside edge to claim the starting slot against USC. The big question regarding Berry will be whether his injured hand will allow him to throw deep without loss of accuracy and significantly reduce his interceptions? The biggest question mark regarding Beck will be whether he can reduce his turnovers and throw accurate touch passes.

Either way, the quarterback position at BYU for this 2004 season will be in better hands than in the previous two seasons.

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