One thing has become as clear as any other in modern college football — the game is quarterback-centric. Not exactly a newsflash. It’s always seemed to be that way, but that supposition has spiraled into fact over the past few decades, especially over the past few years.
And that fact has been substantiated by both great quarterback play and the lack thereof.
It’s certainly true heading into the 2017 season, when Utah, BYU and Utah State will depend on their QBs to lead them through the challenges standing in the way of, in the case of the Utes and Aggies, competing for a league championship, and, for the Cougars, achieving whatever it is that an independent is seeking.
For Utah, one thing has been missing as the Utes have ascended through the ranks of the Pac-12: The sort of passing attack that could make them complete. Instead, they’ve been … apropos enough, incomplete. A lack of consistency in moving the ball through the air has been their shortcoming, even as they’ve climbed closer to the top of the South via tough, physical defense, a great run game, solid line play, strong efforts in the defense’s backend, a kicking game that has scored points and given them advantageous field position.
As new coordinator Troy Taylor has installed his offense, he will rely on steady play — good decision-making, good judgment, good execution — out of his quarterback to make the conversion whole. That’s one of the reasons the Utes have taken their time naming a starter.
“It’s the most important decision we have to make heading into the season,” Kyle Whittingham said, adding that his beloved running backs, the guys on whom he has relied in so many seasons past to do the lion’s share of the offensive work, will have a different role this time around. They “may not end up getting as many carries. … I expect them to catch more balls than last year. We’ll be throwing the ball more often.”
Which will emphasize the role of you-know-what that much more.
If the ball doesn’t get up on time by way of the right read to the open receiver, Taylor’s offense will look nothing more than pedestrian, which is what the previous eight coordinators’ offenses have been.
The quarterback has to get that much right to make the O go. It’s absolutely crucial. He doesn’t have to have a gun for an arm, doesn’t have to run like the wind, doesn’t have to be Tom Freaking Brady. He has to expertly manage a relatively simple attack. Nothing spectacular is required, just sufficiency.
Taylor, like most offensive coaches, stresses strong leadership out of the quarterback position. When games are on the line, the guy under center is the man, a truth not lost on Ute senior Troy Williams, who said, “The quarterback is the guy the rest of the team looks up to.”
But he has to give his teammates reason to do their looking.
Tanner Mangum understands this because every BYU quarterback has to understand it to succeed. There was a hole in the heart of the offense in almost every mediocre Cougar campaign. The better ones were captained by a top-drawer QB.
“I get the responsibility that comes with this,” Mangum said. “On the field and off it. Everyone on the team has to do his job, but I know I have to do mine for the offense to work. I feel good, but I’m not satisfied. I’m working to improve, working to get better.”
BYU offensive coordinator Ty Detmer said he trusts Mangum and virtually will turn over the offense to him in the weeks ahead: “We’re expecting a big season from him.”
Added Kalani Sitake: “This is Tanner’s team, it’s his offense.”
In Logan, it’s Kent Myers’ offense.
These days, it’s always the quarterback’s offense.
And that’s the single thing that gauges a team’s success more than any other. Utah and BYU and Utah State might be good without a stellar quarterback, but they’ll never be great without one.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM.