LSU 2001 Preview: QBs

Stop us if you've read this before, but senior quarterback Rohan Davey is the very heart and soul of the LSU football team. Stop us if you've read this before. But if Rohan Davey goes down with an injury this fall, the LSU football team might be in a heap of trouble.

Just 12 months ago, the Tigers' roster was teeming with quarterbacks, three of whom had started a game in the Southeastern Conference. Twelve months later, Davey is the only one with any experience on the college level.

Davey will enter this season as the star and undisputed leader at LSU. And for the first time since his stay in Baton Rouge began, he's the undisputed starting quarterback.

"I think we're heading in the right direction," Davey said. "I got my weight where I want it. I'm doing better with my reads and that type of thing. I'm studying more. We can only go farther as a team, and anything I can do to help us attain our goals, I want to do it."

Davey spent two-plus seasons battling with classmates Craig Nall and Josh Booty for the right to lead the Tigers into battle, and on varying occasions, each of them had his chance.

But Davey's second-half heroics in the Peach Bowl last Dec. 29 re-opened the ongoing dilemma for him and Booty. It also made Booty far less popular than his teammate and put him in a precarious position. He would have to fight off Davey again if both players returned for their senior season.

Booty solved the problem Jan. 11, when he announced he would forgo his senior year and enter the NFL draft, becoming the first LSU player to leave school early since Alan Faneca took off after 1997. Faneca went on to become a first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"This is one of the most difficult decisions that I've ever had to make because of the love that I have for LSU," Booty said. "But after much prayer and consultation, I feel it's the right decision to make at this time."

Three months later, the Seattle Seahawks selected Booty in the sixth round with the 172nd overall pick.

Nall, whose career never came to fruition for an array of reasons (a freak thumb injury and inconsistent play being two of them), transferred to Northwestern State, the Division I-AA school in Natchitoches, during the off-season. Nall said he harbored no ill will toward LSU; he simply wanted a chance to do something he probably couldn't do with the Tigers.

"At Northwestern I'll have a chance to compete for the starting job, playing 45 minutes from home in a traditionally strong program with a great coaching staff," said Nall. "Everybody I've met has been real supportive."

With that, four scholarship quarterbacks came to the LSU practice fields this spring: Davey, redshirt freshman Marcus Randall, redshirt freshman Matt Mauck and true freshman Rick Clausen.

"Coming into the spring, we all knew that me, Matt and Rick had to battle for the second-string job," Randall said. "So we all went in, learned the system a little better, worked hard and finished it up with the Spring Game."

Randall, who was once thought to be behind Mauck, soon became the surprise of April. He wowed the coaches and media with good accuracy, a fairly strong arm and the ability to escape dicey situations. Randall was 10-for-19 in the Spring Game with 126 yards and a touchdown toss to Josh Reed, and seemed to cement his standing as the No. 2 man — although Saban wouldn't make it official. 

"I think he kind of has as the spring has gone on, but I don't think its imperative that we make that decision," Saban said. "I mean, (ITAL) Tiger Rag (ITAL) made it already, I saw that. It's not going to officially come out of here because it's not necessary for it to come out of here, and I don't think it makes any difference.

"We're trying to develop all of our quarterbacks. I think he (Randall) had the best spring out of all of our backup quarterbacks. But to be a solid backup for us, I don't think he's where he needs to be. We're going to continue to work with all three backups and continue to develop them to get to that."

Randall still has to do plenty of work before Saban and offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher will feel better about the quarterbacks as a whole. In front of 12,628 fans in the Spring Game, he was shaky in the first half and needed to consult with Fisher.

"The first half, I was nervous with the big stadium," Randall said. "But I came out and settled down. Me and coach Fisher talked the reads over and I came out and had a better second half."

But Randall still hasn't been under center for a full-blown college game.

"It is a concern because he (Randall) doesn't have experience," Saban said. "We think he has ability. It's important to get him experience some kind of way."

If Saban's comments were a true indication of his thoughts, Mauck has plenty of ground to make up if he is to catch Randall.

"You'd like to have a third guy that you feel good about that's making progress," Saban said. "We're a little concerned about that, too."

Mauck, a 23-year-old former pro baseball player from Jasper, Ind., didn't have an awful off-season, but did seem to lag behind Randall. In two scrimmages and the Spring Game, Mauck was a combined 9-of-26 passing for 99 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

At spring practice, Clausen was literally a boy among men. He had graduated early from Taft High in Woodland Hills, Calif., and made it to LSU in January. He didn't stun anyone with his arm or accuracy, and Clausen is likely headed for a redshirt unless injuries force his hand. Still, his 15 practices will help him in the future.

A wild card entered the backup race in June but withdrew just as quickly. Ryan Sorahan, recruited by a number of Pac-10 teams while in high school, chose California but soon left for San Jose State. He spent one spring with the Spartans and was tentatively named the starter for the following fall, but he didn't feel comfortable with the program.

Sorahan landed at Foothill Communtiy College in Los Gatos, Calif., and enjoyed decent success before shopping himself again. He planned to walk on at LSU, where he would receive a scholarship in January, but vacillated again and took a trip to Arkansas. That's where he stayed.

To an extent, the three backups' success or failure won't matter if Davey takes all the snaps this fall — something he hasn't been able to do thus far. But Davey hasn't worried about the players behind him. He says he likes what he's seen from them thus far, and that the three underclassmen will improve.

"Marcus, Matt and Rick Clausen, all of them worked hard over the spring," Davey said. "They're only going to get better."

IN 2000: LSU quarterbacks Josh Booty and Rohan Davey completed 183 of 349 pass attempts for 2,698 yards and 24 touchdowns against 16 interceptions. Booty earned a spot on the coaches' All-SEC first team, while Davey earned a "hero" label. 

IN 2001: It's sink or swim for Davey, who has to prove he can take a season's worth of pounding, make better reads and turn in solid work at practice. Otherwise, an unproven quarterback will be asked to foot the bill. 

ON THE SPOT: Marcus Randall. With a year on the Ponderosa under his belt, Randall will get the first call if Davey is injured. His progress in two-a-days will be imperative, especially with a historically fragile starter. 

THE X-FACTOR: Matt Mauck. If he can come into camp and have a sizzling August, Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher won't be afraid to move Mauck into the No. 2 role. If nothing else, he has age as an advantage. 

LITTLE-KNOWN FACT: As a starting quarterback, Rohan Davey's record is 2-2. In 1999, he made starts against North Texas (W, 52-0) and Auburn (L, 41-7). In 2000, he made starts against Tennessee (W, 38-31) and Florida (L, 41-9). 

QUOTABLE:  "In order for Rohan to take advantage of all of the athletic and skills that he has, he has to be in good condition. It's really more of a mental thing, because if Rohan knows he's not in good condition, it doesn't matter what he's physically capable of doing." —Jimbo Fisher, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach

Pre-season grade: B-.

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