SWAC coaches: Quarterback controversy? What quarterback controversy?

Hopefully, you had your roster handy at last week’s Southwestern Athletic Conference games. If you pay attention to quarterback play — and who doesn’t? — you likely needed one.

Jonathan Troast, seeing his first action since the season opener against Bethune-Cookman, came off the bench for Prairie View and proceeded to toss four TD passes in the second half to lead the Panthers to a stunning 31-23 victory over Grambling in annual State Fair Classic at the Cotton Bowl. Grambling, meanwhile, started Frank Rivers in place of quarterback D.J. Williams, who was out with turf toe. Rivers threw for nearly 200 yards and two scores.

Southern again used both J.P. Douglas — who threw the game-winning touchdown pass with 11:09 to play — as well as Dray Joseph at quarterback in a nail-biting victory over Missisippi Valley. It was Valley’s 18th straight conference loss, in a streak dating back three seasons — but it was also the smallest margin of defeat in conference games since a 17-12 stumble against Alabama A&M on Nov. 21, 2009.

Alabama State quarterback Greg Jenkins, who was originally sharing time with last year’s SWAC Championship Game starter Devin Dominguez, passed for a career-high 297 yards and three scores, while rushing for 58 yards and a 23-yard touchdown on a keeper last week in an eventual win over Alcorn State. On the other sideline, the Braves inserted Darius Smith in place of starter Brandon Bridge under center in an attempt to spark the offense. Smith tossed two touchdowns, while passing for 186 yards.

That might lead one to believe that there were quarterback controversies brewing across the league, right? Alcorn State coach Melvin Spears counters: “Absolutely not.” It’s all about competition, he added during Monday’s weekly SWAC coaches teleconference. Grambling’s Doug Williams downplayed any brewing controversy, too. As did Prairie View’s Heishma Northern. And so on …

“There is an ongoing competition for everyone, not just at the quarterback position,” said Spears, whose 1-4 Braves are on a bye week. “Certainly, you always want one to come out and solidify things, but right now they are even. It’s a fair market for all 22 positions. It’s not any different than with any other player.”

Northern, whose team is 3-2 and facing Southern this week, made a change when Prairie View quarterback Jerry Lovelocke went down at halftime with an injury to his right ankle. Throast entered the season atop the depth chart, but lost his job to Lovelocke after a shaky start. True freshman De’Auntre Smiley has also competed for playing time.

“I think we have a good trio of quarterbacks — if not, they wouldn’t be here on scholarship,” Northern said, in post-game comments. “Troast went out there and played the way we expected him to. He made some great reads, throws and runs. He just had a great second half.”

For Williams, injury was the catalyst for change for his 1-4 club, which is also on a bye: “D.J. has got severe turf toe, something that happened in the first quarter of the (Alabama) A&M game. It wasn’t a matter of just switching quarterbacks. Frank was going to be the starter, because D.J. wouldn’t have been able to play either way.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the benching of Bridge — a celebrated preseason player who ended up fourth in the league with a 190-yard passing average per game as a freshman in 2010. In fact, only two passers, both upperclassmen, threw for more than his 19 touchdowns last season. Yet the untested sophomore Smith is a promising prospect, as well, Spears said.

“Darius has a big arm,” he said. “He’s shown a little more poise. He’s not looking to run so much. Anytime, when you have a real young team, you have to matriculate them to where you want them to be. Sometimes, it takes a little more tutelage.”

Southern coach Stump Mitchell, who promised a two-quarterback system in the run up to the 2011 season, seems to have finally completed his depth chart — but that doesn’t mean you won’t see two guys: “Dray Joseph is going to be my starter the entire year, unless he get’s injured. Dray has my full backing,” Mitchell said, later in the teleconference. But Mitchell also said this: “I like where we’re at with both quarterbacks. Both of those guys can play and both of them will play. They’re going to face both quarterbacks. They know that.”

Northern said he expects Lovelocke to play against 2-3 Southern on Saturday. Jenkins has apparently secured the job at Alabama State, which used Dominguez in each of its first three games but hasn’t inserted him since. Williams and Spears get another week to sort things out.

Don’t expect the quarterback questions to have gone away by then — no matter how much these coaches try to avoid them.

“We’re going to focus on what’s best for our team — not what’s best for one player or another,” Spears added. “It’s an identity crisis until you find a new leader. But we’re trying to win — whatever it takes to win. That’s where we are at right now.”

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  1. Pingback: Game Week Wednesday: Who To Watch at Jackson State sports


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