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Kragthorpe: Colin Kaepernick brings back bad memories for Utah State

Kurt Kragthorpe

By kurt kragthorpe

Tribune Columnist

First published Jan 29 2013 04:01PM
Updated Feb 1, 2013 11:36AM

New Orleans

As a lifelong fan of the San Francisco 49ers, Utah State linebackers coach Kevin Clune loved watching quarterback Colin Kaepernick shred Green Bay’s defense in an NFC divisional playoff game.

Clune also found some satisfaction in discovering that not even some of the best defensive minds in football could deal with Kaepernick, whose NFL performance has become something of a joke among the Aggie coaches. "Looks like he’s doing it to everybody," Clune said.

Baltimore may be next. The former Nevada quarterback who tormented two USU coaching staffs and a revolving cast of defensive players over four seasons is challenging the Ravens in Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVII.

Kaepernick had just become the Wolf Pack’s quarterback in October 2007 following an injury to the starter — sound familiar? — when he faced USU as a freshman. Nevada’s 31-28 victory in Logan launched a series of four wins, as Kaepernick accounted for more than 1,000 total yards and 11 touchdowns via running and passing, while his offense scored an average of 41.5 points against USU.

He also beat BYU as a senior, making him 5-0 against schools coached by Brent Guy, Gary Andersen and Bronco Mendenhall.

As a freshman in 2010, USU linebacker Jake Doughty made seven tackles in a 56-42 loss to Nevada. Yet the only play he remembers is Kaepernick’s 59-yard touchdown run, having believed he had a good angle on the QB.

"He’s a lot faster than he looks," Doughty said last week.

The Packers made a similar discovery, appearing totally bewildered by Kaepernick’s read-option keepers. Then, in the NFC championship game, Atlanta was so determined to keep him from running that running backs Frank Gore and LaMichael James went untouched on a combined three touchdowns.

Clune likes seeing how the NFL has incorporated college-style offensive schemes, using the skills of quarterbacks such as Kaepernick, Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Washington’s Robert Griffin III. To deal with them as runners, defenses have to commit more players to the line of scrimmage, which exposes them on the outside.

In that case, Kaepernick "has to show consistently that he is a great thrower," Clune said. "If so, it doesn’t matter what you do on defense."

San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman cleverly took the read-option element out of the game plan late in the regular season, then surprised Green Bay with it. Roman stops short of saying the NFL’s young, dynamic quarterbacks will revolutionize the game, because their health is a concern — as evidenced by Griffin’s knee injury.

"You have to be smart about how often you run him and how you do it," Roman said. "If you try to do too much of it, I think it’ll be a short-lived phenomenon."

NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci would have loved to use the option when he coached Steve Young in San Francisco. But "when you pay Steve Young $10 million a year, to have some defensive lineman smack him in the face after he pitches the ball," Mariucci said, "I don’t think I would risk that."

So owners may view this strategy differently after Kaepernick, Wilson and Griffin sign their next contracts. But Griffin’s coach, Mike Shanahan, recently told Mariucci, "It’s here to stay."

That can only frighten defensive coordinators. As a member of that brotherhood, Clune is eager to watch how they adapt. "I’m wondering what the NFL defenses will do next year, what tricks and schemes they come up with," Clune said. "That will be the true test."

Best of all, that’s somebody else’s problem now.

Twitter: @tribkurt

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