Joe Santoro | Nevada football needs to solve quarterback quandary
October 7, 2011
There’s no avoiding it any longer. The Nevada Wolf Pack finds itself in a must-win situation this Saturday when the UNLV Rebels come to Mackay Stadium. Actually, it’s a must-blowout-win situation. Unlike the first four games, when the Pack was sabotaged and set up by its own athletic department to fail, this game will tell us everything we need to know about the Wolf Pack, 2011 edition. The Pack simply needs to rip a huge hole in the Rebels. Anything less than a three touchdown victory and, well, Mackay Stadium will be covered by one gigantic red flag come Sunday morning. UNLV is a bad football team. They have been bad for the better part of the last two decades. That is not the question that needs to be answered on Saturday. The question that needs to be answered is just how good is this Wolf Pack team? We’ll find out on Saturday.
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Of course, it all starts with the quarterback position. The Pack is now in Week 5 and they still have no idea who to call their starting quarterback. Did you ever think you’d see a Chris Ault team in disarray at quarterback a month into the season? These next two weeks, against two of the worst teams in the nation (UNLV and New Mexico), is the perfect time to get that quarterback ship in order. One guy has to emerge as the leader. Enough with the shuffling in and out between Tyler Lantrip and Cody Fajardo and, yes, even Mason Magleby. Enough with the doubts, questions and unknowns. This football team, above all else, is in search of some leadership. And if you don’t have a starting quarterback, you don’t have any leadership.
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Who should Ault play at quarterback? Well, it’s the same guy he should have played right from the start. Fajardo, everyone (even Ault) agrees, has the bigger upside. It’s not even close. Turning the offense over to Fajardo, a red-shirt freshman, also has much more long-term benefits for the program as a whole over giving it to the senior Lantrip. Fajardo is a pistol quarterback with pistol quarterback skills. He can make plays with his legs that Lantrip can’t even imagine. The pistol without a quarterback who can bust a 40-yard touchdown run is a pistol with rubber bullets. It’s annoying for defenses to defend but it won’t kill them. Fajardo has also outplayed Lantrip this year. You can argue that he is already the better quarterback. The bottom line is that Lantrip has been given four starts and, well, the offense is a mess. It’s time for Ault to pull the trigger.
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Lantrip is a good guy, a smart guy and a guy you want to see succeed. But Lantrip is also a guy who has not played in six years, since he was a senior in high school. And he only started one year in high school. You can argue that the Wolf Pack senior has far less experience than the red-shirt freshman Fajardo. To expect Lantrip to come out this year and play well after watching on the sidelines for five seasons, well, that was a bit unrealistic. Of course he was going to be rusty. Of course he was going to struggle, especially in an offense that lost practically all of its skill players from the previous year. So it was obvious that, no matter who was the quarterback, there would be a lot of on-the-job training. It’s simply time to give that on-the-job training to the guy who will get to use his knowledge in the next three years.
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Fajardo, though, hasn’t seized the opportunity. Ault made no secret of that fact last Saturday when he benched his talented freshman at Boise State and then challenged his drive, intensity and commitment in the media after the game. He wants Fajardo to grab the opportunity by the neck and never let it go, on game day, in practices and meetings, in every waking moment of his day. That’s what another red-shirt freshman quarterback did four years ago. Colin Kaepernick went into Ault’s office and told the old ball coach that he wanted to play and he wanted to play now. And when the opportunity arrived he grabbed it and never let it go. That’s what Fajardo needs to do. Now.
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Brett Favre needs to go away. The comeback kid said this week that he thought Aaron Rodgers would win a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers sooner than last year. He also said Rodgers fell into a pretty good situation at Green Bay and that the former Cal Bear quarterback has much more talent around him than he (Favre) ever did with the Packers? What, exactly, is Favre afraid of? Is he afraid that Packer fans will forget him, that they will consider Rodgers to be the greatest Packer quarterback ever? So what? Favre needs to go find a comfortable pair of Wrangler jeans, drink a beer or seven, tap his foot to some Hank Williams Jr. songs, grab his shot gun and go kill something in the woods and relax. Heck, he even could even slip a Rodgers No. 12 jersey on some deer and go take some shots at it for all we care. But he needs to stop taking verbal shots at Rodgers in the media.
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The NBA players and owners are going to finally, hopefully learn a cold, hard truth about their game: hardly anyone truly cares about the NBA. The NBA could skip an entire season or two because of silly labor problems and it would rate merely a line or two at the bottom of your screen on ESPN. Certainly nobody would care. We have the NFL, college football and college basketball to carry us to April and then baseball will take over again. And if you want a little variety there is always the NHL. The NBA had its two golden decades, from 1979 through 1998, when Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan carried the league. Those days will never come back. And, if they don’t watch out, nobody will even notice if they never come back from this latest ridiculous labor crisis.
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TCU, some reports indicate, will be offered a spot in the Big 12 with the intention of joining the league as soon as 2012. TCU, remember, is in its last year in the Mountain West Conference and is supposedly on its way to the Big East. But a funny thing has happened on TCU’s way to the Big East. Big East football is disintegrating before TCU can even get there. Don’t you just love college football these days? Teams are changing conferences more often than Chris Ault changes his quarterback — and with similar results. Maybe the Wolf Pack should re-think its move to the Mountain West next year. Maybe they should start sniffing around the Big 12, Big East or any number of conferences looking for a better offer. That seems to be how the game is played these days. Your only loyalty is to your budget and bottom line. Or maybe they should just stay in the Western Athletic Conference, win a dozen WAC football titles in a dozen years, and grow fat and happy. That way it doesn’t matter who plays quarterback.
and#8212; Joe Santoro writes a weekly sports column for the Sierra Nevada Media Group.
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