QBs under spotlight with both Utah State, Boise State potentially without starters in MWC title showdown

Jordan Love didn’t move from his spot at the end of an aluminum bench for the entire fourth quarter as his Utah State football team held on to beat Wyoming last Saturday afternoon. The quarterback’s helmet was off and no trainers or teammates appeared to tend to him. He just sat and watched while the scowl on his face and his body language voiced his displeasure at his situation.

Officially, Love was sidelined with an undisclosed injury, and coach Gary Andersen didn’t elaborate Saturday night or at Monday’s weekly press conference.

“There is nothing to really tell at this point,” Andersen said Monday. “So, we’ll see.”

If Love is seriously injured, the timing couldn’t be worse for the Aggies or for the quarterback.

USU hosts No. 20 Boise State on Saturday in a game that will likely determine the Mountain West Conference champion. Only BYU has beaten the Broncos (9-1, 6-0), who are undefeated in the conference. Yet Utah State (6-4, 5-1) has only lost to Air Force Academy in MWC play and can secure the head-to-head advantage for the title with a win Saturday. Without Love, however, the chances of that happening drop precipitously.

More personally, an injury could be a body blow to the quarterback’s potential 2020 NFL Draft position, and just as he was starting to recapture the pizzazz that made him a Heisman Trophy prospect entering this season. In the second quarter alone against Wyoming, Love connected on 13 of 17 pass attempts for 225 yards, an interception and two touchdowns. One of those scores, an 80-yarder to Siaosi Mariner, gave the quarterback the most scoring passes of 80-plus yards (4) in school history. When Love took his spot on the bench, he was 18 for 29 for 282 yards with the two scores, two interceptions and a sack. And by then it was well-publicized that the No. 1 quarterback in most draft rankings, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, had suffered a season-ending hip injury that many believed could have improved Love’s standing in the draft.

At least one person isn’t getting caught up in the hypotheticals surrounding the situation, however, and that’s Broncos coach Bryan Harsin. Harsin indicated he thought Andersen may have just been playing it safe when he benched his star quarterback, even though a fourth-quarter score and a late charge by the Cowboys made USU’s victory anything but certain.

“He’s a good player but you’ve got to prepare for what you have and he was in for the majority of the game,” Harsin said. “You’ve got to protect those players.”

Harsin could be considered an expert on the subject. He started his third-string quarterback in a win last week over New Mexico in part because it was senior night and in part because his first two quarterbacks both have been injured in recent games. True freshman Hank Bachmeier, the season’s starter, has missed two straight games after hurting his shoulder against San Jose State earlier this month. His backup, sophomore Chase Cord, took several big hits and was briefly sent to the medical tent during an overtime win over Wyoming. Cord did not play last week, though there was no need. Senior Jaylon Henderson seized the reins in his first start and went 15 of 28 for 292 yards and three touchdowns in the 42-9 win, earning MWC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

The Broncos will be preparing to face Love, Harsin said, noting that most teams have a scheme into which they can plug their signal-callers. That’s somewhat true of the Aggies, though sophomore Henry Colombi tends to use the run more than the gun-slinging Love. On Saturday, Colombi compiled 35 yards on 3-for-6 passing, including completions of 19 and 18 yards. He added three rushes for 14 yards, an average of 4.67 per carry, before an 11-yard loss on a sack ruined his average.

Harsin also hasn’t named his starting quarterback. However, he advised Utah State not to take the same “one scheme fits all” approach when preparing for the Broncos.

“We’re different,” he said, adding that each of the three quarterbacks runs a different offense. “We’re the exception.”

Andersen said his team will have to learn quickly this week. If Love is out, it will have to adjust to that as well. But that’s something the Aggies, who have been patching holes all season, have gotten pretty good at.

“We’ll have our hands full, regardless of who plays quarterback,” Andersen said. “Who knows who it’s going to be? I guess that’s the million-dollar question for both teams.”


Saturday, 8:30 p.m.

TV: CBS Sports Network