QB Controversy? Not according to Hill

HELLO, OLD FRIEND. I was just thinking, it's been months since the phrase "quarterback controversy" was bandied about with an appropriate amount of verve and vitriol out on the Palouse. But like a long lost compatriot, it took but a second Saturday to bring it back. Actually, about one minute and 48 seconds. But lost amidst the rising clamor is one problem. A quarterback controversy doesn't exist.

Not in the minds of the coaches. And not in the mind of Jason Hill either.

"I don't think there's a controversy, there is probably a controversy among you guys," Hill said to a reporter's question Monday. "We know who our leader is. Alex is our guy. And I want Alex to throw me the ball."

The All-America receiver candidate's proclamation wasn't given because he's a good soldier. It's a well-informed opinion based on spring ball and fall camp, plus the receivers' video study from the Auburn game. Hill went on to say while there were instances of receiver frustration during the game, in the final analysis, they were much ado about nothing.

"When you look at it on film, it's not all Alex's fault -- sometimes our routes weren't good, we didn't get clean releases, (a) receiver might run his route a little slow and not give Alex a big enough lane to throw the ball through," he said. "I think in watching the film, that's what we got out of that. I don't really think Alex was to blame for a lot of it."

The offensive line contributed some, to be sure. The unit had some nice stretches offset by breakdowns, and not just early on. And swept out of the collective crimson consciousness in the wake of Rogers' scintillating touchdown drive -- Alex Brink had played better than Gary Rogers all fall. It wasn't even close.

Had Rogers performed like he did Saturday during the spring or fall, then you just might have something. Because Rogers was truly lights out against Auburn in the third quarter. Still, we're talking about one drive, less than two minutes, with AU up by 19. The outing bodes well for both the sophomore and the Cougs, but talk of any change of atop the depth chart appears woefully premature.

If you want to argue a separate issue, that Rogers should have been left in for another series, well, that's a different bag of cats altogether.

There is valid debate as to whether Rogers should have gone back in or not -- crafting an argument for either side is not difficult. Still, pulling the quarterback as often as is suggested and playing musical chairs is demonstrably a bad way to fly. Taking into account the tone of the game, that Rogers had all of one drive under his belt and about 10 other reasons, it at least would be understandable why WSU didn't stay with Rogers. But that wasn't the reason given.

Coaches Bill Doba and Timm Rosenbach have said there was not any discussion to speak of on whether to stay with Rogers. When Rosenbach was asked why, he said; "No, because that wasn't our plan."

Therein lies a problem. And it's underscored by Washington State's lack of successful halftime adjustments -- something that goes back beyond Doba's tenure.

Mike Price in a halftime interview during the 2003 Rose Bowl ('02 season) said Washington State was "this close, we just have to keep doing what we're doing." Far from it. The running game was working, the short passing attack was not. Price rigidly refused to change from the pass-first mindset and got whacked by Oklahoma in the second half. Price is now gone from the Palouse, but the mindset apparently remains.

If Brink went back in Saturday because the coaches believed, based on seeing Brink and Rogers all spring and fall, he gave the team the best chance to win, then it's a hard point to argue. But because it didn't fit snugly into the confines of a pre-game plan, well, that will roil even the Palouse wheat fields on a calm autumn day.

Bud Withers in The Seattle Times this weekend strongly suggested the coaches didn't consider beforehand an Auburn scenario where Brink is doing poorly and Rogers drops some light-out brilliance on the Tigers. If that's true, that's also a concern.

Brink didn't do himself any favors Saturday, to be sure. He was hesitant on a quarterback draw. He could have stayed in the pocket longer on other occasions, and appeared to be rushing all night after getting hit early. But Brink also outperformed -- far outperformed -- every other Cougar quarterback this offseason. And lost in the laser like focus on the quarterback play, there were again some of the same defensive woes that gave Cougar fans ulcers the last two years.

The tackling was sub-par in stretches, the same tendency not to wrap up that's plagued the defense the last two seasons was again on display. Some members of the back seven were out of position on a number of plays. Still, there was enough defensive prowess to show Washington State will be better than last year -- the tackles got upfield pressure against a pretty good Auburn offensive line -- but how much better is the question. Fevaea'i Ahmu's return will also add to the push. And just like the offense, everything starts up front with the line.

But the quarterback situation is really all anyone seems to want to talk about, so fine. Let's talk about it.

Washington State will need to figure out if Rogers is one of those guys who plays better in games than he does in practice. They have the next two non-conference games to do that. And Brink has the next two weeks to re-assert his position -- not among the coaches and players but rather, among the fans and media.

Dennis Erickson will have the Vandals believing they can knock off the Cougs, Idaho nearly upset Michigan State on the road Saturday. All Baylor's defense did was smack No. 21 TCU in the mouth this weekend. On the verge of an upset, the Bears led through nearly all of three quarters before fading in a 17-7 loss.

So it won't be easy for either Brink or Rogers. But there also isn't any question to who's the No. 1 quarterback. And based on fall camp, there shouldn't be -- not yet, anyway. For Brink, a couple big wins and some impressive drives will quiet many of the discontented. But toss in a couple of uneven performances, coupled with more Rogers' magic, and then there just might be something to talk about. Or yell about.

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