Football Forensics: The QB Controversy

There is no use denying it, denial is the first stage of death. Instead Gamecock fans need to wrap themselves in it, they need to smother themselves in the reality of it and welcome the cold hard facts of the situation. Read my lips. There is another quarterback controversy in Columbia, the third year in a row ...

"I really like the way Dondrial Pinkins is responding to what we are asking him to do. He is doing what we ask of him. Now if you ask me, 'did Dondrial do what was expected of him in the spring?' I would have to say no, not particularly, not in the spring game at least. But that was one day. We know he's better than that. And Syvelle, I liked what he did. The two interceptions not withstanding, I mean we have to work on those things and he knows that. His decision making has to get better but Syvelle is going to be fun to watch this season. And Blake Mitchell, you know he didn't get a lot of snaps in the spring game but Blake has come a long way since last year and we expect great things from him. You know he's tall and a little bit thin right now, (around 205 or so), and he is more of a pro set, drop back pocket passer guy maybe than the others. And the forgotten guy out there these days is a senior Mike Rathe. He has continued to get better and better and I really think Mike could do some good things this year. I think that we will see at least three quarterbacks get a lot of work this year, I can see that happening ... "

- Gamecock Assistant Head Coach Coach Skip Holtz on Phil Kornblut's show in early May of 2004.

What did he say? Did he say Dondrial Pinkins would return as the man to beat? Did he say Syvelle Newton is the heir apparent? And who is the third guy going to be, Mike Rathe or Blake Mitchell? Welcome to the world of modern college football where every coach has to watch every word he utters knowing full well that within minutes of him speaking, those words will be passed along to a parent or player for their personal interpretation - or worse yet, the head coach. What a pain in the derrière that must be in these days of political correctness. Never the less that is Skip Holtz's problem, not ours. Ours is having a winning football team worthy of the fans' support. And problem number one, is this mell of a hess of a quarterback controversy brewing in Columbia.

Multiple quarterback offenses rarely work. There are exceptions to the rule but they are rare. Georgia tried it with Greene and Shockley. But who is the quarterback at Georgia? Who is it really? This we know for sure, that's no two QB system being run in Athens. And the Gamecocks did it twenty years ago with Hold and Mitchell, the exception, not the rule that Gamecock fans seem to be holding onto with a death grip. "It worked in the Black Magic Season and it can work again by gosh!"


Here is where the real controversy develops. As mentioned in the Silence of the Fans opening chapter, Lou Holtz needs to change. Gamecock fans thought they were getting an old fashioned whip cracker, and they did. But Lou has remained old fashioned about the wrong things at times; strategies and motivators in which he should be progressing with the times. And he attempts to go new-fashioned about the wrong things at times, strategies and motivators in which he should be adhering to an old fashioned philosophy. It's all very confusing.

You cannot go through this quarterback controversy year in and year out, without it eventually affecting the team. It's like a cancer, it keeps spreading and spreading polluting the new meat as it arrives. Holtz appears to be out to prove to everyone how "right" he is, or how hard-headed he is, or who knows. There is something going on there that most do not understand. At any rate here we are, coming into a third year after Phil Petty, and still, no one knows who the quarterback is going to be? This is Lou Holtz's fault and not everyone will be willing to forgive him if he allows this to continue. He has to make a command decision and it has to happen early.

Different signals are sent on an almost daily basis. We laugh at the commentators and talking heads, including the editor and publisher of this web site (Russ Perry), as they make their best guesses, best cases, for who should be behind center for the Gamecocks in 2004. Clearly no one knows! How is anyone supposed to read the mind of a madman? There is no method to his madness, and therein lies the danger. Lou is as confused as the rest of us. The problem with that is that Holtz is the HCIC.

So Lou has to change. He must allow the younger men to make 75% of the decisions and then he has to back off. It is true that the wins and losses go on the head coach's tombstone, not the assistants'. But it is also true that many a head coach has gone out a loser rather than a winner not because they stuck around too long ..... but because they tried to coach a young man's game rather than allow the younger men to do the coaching for them. Lou is in danger of going out a loser. This season will tell the tale.

Bare with me for a moment. Think back to 2001 and the Arkansas game. Lou should have benched Petty midway through the second quarter and gone with Corey Jenkins for the remainder of the game. Nothing permanent, but the change should have been made for that one game at least. It was a bad no-decision on the part of Holtz and it cost him the game and a Citrus Bowl berth in all probability.

Now come forward to the 2002 season. Lou should have made a change that year, gradually replacing Jenkins with Pinkins once Pinkins' ankle had healed, somewhere by mid-October. Instead Holtz waits until the final two games of the season to move Jenkins to safety and Pinkins to quarterback where both should have been all along. And there is no great revelation in saying this, everybody agrees. Failing to prep Pinkins for the 2003 season would prove costly.

Dondrial Pinkins was showing signs of losing confidence by the end of the 2003 Georgia game. Towards the end of the first half the Holtzes made a desperate move to reverse momentum by inserting Mike Rathe into the game. Rathe was about to see his first SEC action ever, on the road, in Athens, trailing big and with the Dawgs and 90,000 of their fans smelling blood. The rest is history, literally, for Rathe. He rolls to his left and launches one down field - interception. For all practical purposes Rathe's career was over after one play. The sign of a madman at work. Do not get on Lou's bad side. Rathe has been wasted every since. Anyway you look at it he has been wasted. He is either a wasted scholarship or a wasted talent. The choice is yours but the one thing that is not debatable is that it is Holtz's fault. Period.

By the time the open date rolled around the week after the overtime loss in Knoxville, the fans were growing ominously silent. A few praised the team effort, content with taking the Vols into extra innings on their home field, but most saw the game as "the one that got away". A game that was winnable, lost once again through missed opportunities and poor field generalship. If a move was going to be made it needed to be made then, during the off week ... something needed to be done. Even Holtz's most ardent supporters were wondering who would be behind center for the Thursday night ESPN game against Kentucky. To some, a surprise was in order. Yet no surprise happened.

Thursday night rolls around and Pinkins is still at the helm. The decision had been made to save Mitchell's redshirt year and to leave Newton at wide receiver. Rathe would remain nothing more than a figurehead, never again given a chance to prove his worth. The Gamecocks were in essence operating with one quarterback - all their eggs in one basket. They almost lost that Kentucky game. They did lose the remainder of the season.

Three years of indecision. Not worth dwelling on, but worth recognizing because it appears to be happening again. The rule of 'never make the same mistake twice' gone out the door two seasons ago. So again, Lou must change. Lou has to make a decision and go with it. Either he goes with Pinkins or he goes with Newton, there is no in between and it cannot be both. All the talk about a potential three quarterback system is nothing short of ludicrous. For that matter we must assume that either Syvelle Newton starts at quarterback or he is moved back to wide receiver. His talent would be wasted as a backup quarterback according to truly knowledgeable football minds. We've heard many say it over and over, but until I was told the following I never understood what they were trying to say.

"Quarterback is the only position where, if you are the backup in a normal situation, you just do not get a chance to play," a former Gamecock quarterback told me with the understanding that I not use his name - he did not want to appear to be questioning Holtz's decision making process. (I hate unnamed sources but the quote was too good not to use, at the same time I couldn't claim it as mine so I was stuck and you will have to live with that.) "We'll have to see how that goes," he continued. "Quarterback is the one position where if you are not the starter you barely get a chance to practice much less play. So why bench a player like Newton? You gotta either start him or move him back to wide receiver, one or the other."

Of course Holtz will probably try to do just that just to show everyone that he can do whatever he wants - regardless. Play both of them that is.

It's a familiar thought these days. Those that are tuned-in to what is going on, those independent thinkers out of Lou's blast radius, are all asking the same question. So what does Lou do? He must change. He must do it differently than he has the past few years. He has to make the decision early and go with it - his only chance of failure being if he waits too long, as he has in the past. If Pinkins is the man then Rathe or Mitchell should be the backup. If Newton is the man then Pinkins is the backup. There is no way that Pinkins should be the starter and Newton the backup, not unless the man has lost his mind, not past the first or second game anyway.

In summary Lou has to change his philosophy now. This is not how he used to be. This is not what got him to where he is. Lou used to be known for yanking QBs and replacing them at the drop of a hat ... just ask Houston Nutt. Gamecock fans should hope for a return to that approach. So more appropriately, Lou doesn't need to change, he needs to 'change back' if that makes any sense at all? And there is more. Things that go well beyond this quarterback controversy of Lou's. Things we will discuss in the next edition of the Forensic Footballer.

- Toby

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