September 16, 2008

Backup the Truck: Were other QBs used correctly?

Does it really matter?

One of the hot topics in the wake of Oklahoma State's 57-13 win over Missouri State has been that of the backup quarterbacks. Alex Cate and Brandon Weeden did get on the field and play against the Bears, but fans and media alike question if they were used properly.

There are two schools of thought on this issue.

The first is that MSU was a horrible opponent and the game got out of hand faster than even the OSU coaching staff could predict, so things were scaled back on offense to keep it from getting too ugly or embarrassing. In turn, that meant that Cate and Weeden didn't get quality snaps passing the ball, instead being used as handoff machines during their times on the field.

The second is that MSU was a horrible opponent and, regardless of where the score was at, both of the QBs not named Zac Robinson needed tangible game experience with the offense geared up and ready to go so they'd have some actual playing time that mattered.

So, did Mike Gundy miss a chance to work both backups in a quality manner? Let's look at both sides of the issue…

NO HE DIDN'T
When a team the stature of OSU is playing a Div. I-AA program, it's really questionable what a coach could learn from a game like this. After all, aside from a small handful of lower-division schools (Appalachian State), there's usually not much fight or competition there for a team from a BCS-level conference. That was the case for the Cowboys this past weekend, as they opened up the game early and never looked back. With only five minutes gone in the second quarter, the Pokes were already up 36-3. By the time Robinson put on his baseball hat, the game was obviously over and there didn't seem to be any need to burn the Bears more than they already had been. Now obviously the Cowboys scored three more times in the second half, but they were on cruise control the whole time and those scored were incidental more than anything else.

Because of that, Cate and Weeden weren't really tested in their stints on the field. With the score already out of hand, it's obvious the game plan in the second half was to just run the ball, milk the clock and get things over with. So the backups were sent in to hand off the ball, only attempting three passes apiece. Even if they had thrown more, they wouldn't have taken anything away from this contest since the competition was so poor. So why bother? The Cowboys won, no devastating injuries were suffered and both QBs got in some time running the offense. Good enough.

YES HE DID
Opponents like MSU are brought to major colleges for a reason: to beat up on, pad the stats and get every level of the team some serious game-time play, even if the score is 45-0 after just 10 minutes. But more importantly, a game like this is a great chance for a team with inexperienced backup QBs to get some time running the offense in a serious manner. When Robinson was taken out of this game, Cate and Weeden should have been used in a way that was productive for their growth on the playing field. Cate is still young and Weeden has been away from football for a long time and each needed this game to stretch things out a bit. It was a waste to bring them out just to hand off the ball. Why not have each one pass around 20 times each? Yes, the game was long over by time they got on the field, but the Bears got a nice big check to come to Stillwater and both guys should have received a chance to throw the ball to players like Dez Bryant, Brandon Pettigrew, DeMarcus Conner or Damien Davis. Each player needed at least a series where the offense was going at full tilt and throwing the ball was an option because it would only help their growth and field vision.

If they had been used in that manner, it might have been good experience for them to draw on if Robinson were to get hurt for any amount of time this year. Sure, the competition wasn't all that, but that's not the point. Gaining real-time, live-action snaps where their decision-making skills were being used could have been a big positive. Instead, OSU is left with two backups who still don't have tangible playing experience on the college level.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Obviously there's no going back on this situation. The decisions were made. Cate and Weeden acted as mere custodians of the offense instead of getting to play a real factor in things. If Robinson has another healthy year and puts up more amazing numbers, this debate won't matter because it will have meant that the other two will have just been spectators. But if he does go down? Then how the backups were handled in this game could come back to haunt Gundy.

So did the handling of the backups matter? You be the judge.

Justin Wilmeth is the editor of OStateIllustrated.com. He can be reached via e-mail at justin@ostate.com.

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