'Live' QB gamble pays off at KU, WVU

The starting quarterback battles remained wide open heading into the spring games at Kansas and West Virginia.

So Jayhawks coach Charlie Weis and Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen decided to augment their evaluation of the competitors by removing their protective jerseys.

It paid off for both programs. Holgorsen was able to get a more accurate read on his quarterbacks, and Weis was able to select his starter: sophomore Montell Cozart.

“It was fun watching those guys get hit,” Holgorsen said. “They weren’t making the progress we wanted, and about six practices ago, we let them get hit and the sense of urgency picked up.”

Paul Millard had a strong spring game, completing 14 of 19 passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns, but the Mountaineers’ starting quarterback competition will likely continue deep into preseason camp with Clint Trickett returning from injury and freshman William Crest joining the mix this summer.

At Kansas, new offensive coordinator John Reagan will bring some quarterback runs into play this fall. Cozart took advantage by rushing for 70 yards and two scores in the Jayhawks' spring game. He earned offensive MVP honors.

“In this offense, the quarterback has to be able to be a run threat as well as a passing threat,” Weis said. “If your quarterbacks never get hit, how do you know how they’re going to react when the pressure is on? The only way you can know is if he gets hit.”

There are pros and cons to this stance. Obviously it’s an silly option for a program such as Baylor, which returns the Big 12 offensive player of the year in quarterback Bryce Petty. There’s no reason for an established starter to go live in the spring game. But in certain situations, such as at Kansas and West Virginia, it makes sense. And not just for the quarterbacks in question.

“It’s really been good for our defense to see a lot,” Holgorsen said. “I mean, how many teams do we face that are going to run their quarterbacks a lot? It’s good for our defense to see it and their production picked up.”

Yet, there are still pitfalls.

“The easiest con is you can always get someone hurt,” Weis said. “It’s the last practice of the entire spring, and you’re going full speed with your quarterbacks. You leave yourself open for a lot of scrutiny if all of your quarterbacks get banged up. Fortunately, that didn’t happen with any of them.”

It’s an uncommon trend, but one that Weis didn’t rule out for the future.

“In the past, very seldom would I let the quarterbacks be hit or be touched,” he said. “There’s a risk/reward. The reward greatly outweighs the risk.”