Matt Kegel has one season to make a career. And he knows it. To find clues as to how he's going to perform in ‘03, I went looking in the past.
A SERIES EVERY 2nd QUARTER
In theory it was, and is, a good idea. In reality, it didn't work. One problem in pulling Jason Gesser for a series: It was an ‘absolute'. Gesser would come out at a predetermined time, regardless of what was happening on the field.
It is folly to now wonder what Gesser may have done with those lost series. It is reasonable to look at the lessons learned. One in particular has escaped notice for the most part.
Kegel didn't have much of a chance to succeed.
The plays called for him were unremarkably similar each game. The schemes, sets, formations. A couple of runs followed by the ‘safe' pass attempt.
So what happened when the Cougs ran something different for Kegel? Against Oregon in 2001, the athletic QB pitched to Collin Henderson who tossed it back to Kegel. Boom. 63 yards.
Not that running a bunch of ‘trick plays' during his cameos was the answer. Far from it. It simply illustrates when the playbook was opened up for Kegel, the opposing team was caught holding their jock. And he used one of his strengths, his raw speed, to make them pay.
Yet the following week and beyond it was back to the safe, vanilla play calls for Kegel. The usual result was fairly predictable. Three and out.
OC Mike Levenseller mentioned he might try to get Chris Hurd or Josh Swogger some playing time this season. I wouldn't mind seeing that.
What if some flexibility is built into it? What if, given the current game situation, the plan gets scrapped that Saturday? Or what if opposing defenses are kept off balance with different looks and varied play calls from week to week?
Something tells me IF they go that way, with Bill Doba overseeing the process, this will NOT be a throwaway series for the Cougs. And at this time next year, there will be little wondering what Kegel would have done with opportunities lost.
PRACTICE TIME AS A STARTER
A world of difference between the starting and backup QB. Invaluable time in terms of anticipating how other players react in certain situations, the timing…a hundred other things.
Devard Darling was under-thrown many times in ‘02, partly because JG played hurt. Kegel and Darling have been working all offseason to eliminate that as much as possible.
Sammy Moore has become a favorite target. Troy Bienemann and the tight ends have gotten a lot of reps. The combination of Kegel to Chris Jordan continues to impress the coaches.
Fall camp is less than a month away. And Kegel will immensely benefit from additional time spent with the first unit in August.
PLAYING TO YOUR STRENGTHS
Offenses are designed to a team's strengths. Kegel himself will have more plays called that take advantage of his best attributes. Kegel is an athlete. The Montana native twice placed 2nd in state in the triple jump. Oh, he's also got a very strong arm.
It remains to be seen if he has the ‘escapability' Gesser had, but as far as a pure runner, Kegel has more speed. I don't know if that means more designed QB draws and/or rolling pockets - or any number of other things.
But I'm enjoying the fact opponents won't know what it means either.
As far as playing to Kegel's strengths - No, it does not mean he's going to bomb it deep all day or take off running every other down. But on deep outs, Kegel may rifle it in there occasionally, rather than rely primarily on (uncanny) touch like Gesser.
The crossing patterns Gesser timed into the flat - Kegel may be looking to put less loft on those, without putting too much zip on it. Crossing patterns - brings up another vital point. Footwork.
New QB coach Timm Rosenbach noticed almost immediately if Kegel had better footwork, he'd be more accurate.
With more crossing routes a real possibility this year, being slightly off can mean the difference between a 1st down and a 4th down. Fundamentals, like proper footwork, are critical to that end.
It's a curse in a way: A great athlete blessed with such a strong arm. Those overwhelming skills can perpetuate a flaw. And it becomes habit. Eventually, it has an adverse effect.
Oh I know. I, too, recall another big, strong-armed QB who didn't have the best footwork. He'd even throw off the wrong foot much of the time. Still, he enjoyed amazing success.
But that ‘amazing success' didn't happen for Drew Bledsoe his first year as a starter. It took a bit of time. Kegel has only this one season. And proper footwork; it can only help. And Rosey and Kegel - they're on it. They have been for some time now. Watch for the difference this year.
THE (BIG) SKILL PLAYERS
The Offensive Line might actually be more talented this season than in ‘02. Regardless, there will be significant changes that help Kegel.
Picture 320-pound guard Josh Parrish and others plowing the road for Jermaine Green. Picture a second back, or a TE in motion, putting a defender flat on his wallet. And then picture the second back or TE staying home to pass block, giving Kegel more time. Imagine the possibilities.
And then there's this.
It always starts with the Offensive Line. Always. The most anonymous players on the field are the ones most responsible for the success/failure of the offense as a whole. As important as the quarterback, running back, receivers, etc are - the line is where its at.
Those receiving the least glory are the ones most deserving. Ironic. Well, unless you're an offensive lineman. Then its not ironic. Then it just plain sucks.
EPILOGUE TO A BEGINNING
I'm not saying we should rent silo space in Dusty again this year. Nor that the best QB statistics will be authored in Pullman. It would be extraordinarily naïve to say ALL that has dogged Kegel to this point will not surface on occasion this season. But here's the thing.
Matt Kegel will open some eyes in ‘03. He's going to be better than before. Book it.
And if some crisp autumn afternoon, Kegel has less than his best stuff - as all quarterbacks do at times - there's still reason to believe. Because an exceptional o-Line and talent laden defense just may carry the day.
Because this is a team game.
Some see the same Kegel, some see a new Kegel. My view? There's a difference in Kegel this offseason, both in word and in deed. Its his last campaign. And he knows it. So before this season begins, before the ball is even snapped..
Let the naysayers come. Let the critics in the media speak. Just prepare to be held accountable after the season draws to a close.
It is nearly time. It is nearly Kegel's time. Bring it on.
Marty Kromminga contributed valuable information for this article. Marty is a 1984 graduate of Washington State University. He resides in Ogden, Utah.