Two’s a Party, Three’s a Crowd
Quarterback Tony Daniel proved that he is a viable candidate for the starting role
Published: Monday, April 16, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
In an already heated position battle, the two players vying for the starting quarterback job welcomed another player to the competition following the football team’s spring game.
Current frontrunner for the job, junior quarterback Alex Zordich threw for a game-high 183 yards and three passing touchdowns with his top competition going into the game, redshirt freshman quarterback Joe Licata, posting 99 yards with a touchdown and an interception.Redshirt freshman Tony Daniel made a strong case for the starting role by leading all quarterbacks with 19 completions. He had a stretch where he completed nine straight passes. He also showed his versatility as a runner with 62 rushing yards during his reps in the four-man rotation at quarterback.
“[Zordich and Licata] are the two guys that we are really going to look at carefully to be that guy to take that first snap against Georgia,” said head coach Jeff Quinn. “But you can’t dismiss what you saw out of [senior quarterback] Jerry [Davis] in a couple moments in the game today. And also Tony Daniel, he was as loose as any of them and he did a good job commanding the offense, so that’s a good situation.”
Daniel’s first series under center was highlighted by his running ability. He broke out for two runs, both over 10 yards, and then kept the chains moving by converting a third and one on a quarterback keeper. That drive ended with senior fullback Rashad Jean jumping over the pile for a score.
Despite being disappointed with his play, Licata had the most impressive drive of the day. Taking over with just 49 seconds left in the half, Licata marched the offense 65 yards down the field and capped the drive with an eight-yard pass to junior wide receiver Alex Neutz as time expired.
“That was a great drive if you look at it,” Quinn said. “We needed some momentum and that’s what I kept telling him. We weren’t going to take a timeout and he didn’t have to because we were at about the eight yard line and he spiked the ball to stop the clock, which was a heads up play by him and he was able to connect with Neutz right before the half.”
Licata threw the lone pick and went 7-for-13, but proved he can lead the offense despite being a freshman.
“I take pride in being able to command the offense and command the huddle,” Licata said. “And show these guys that I’m able to play the game of football, and play quarterback, and be able to control the offense. It was big for me and big for the team.”
Zordich ended his first half with a 42-yard touchdown to Neutz, going 8-for-11 with three touchdowns and 162 yards in the half.
He proved to be a dual threat, as he also ran for 34 yards. Zordich was all over the place in the backfield and, in one broken play, scrambled 25 yards behind the line of scrimmage before completing a 10-yard pass.
“He was out there showing and demonstrating what he is capable of doing,” Quinn said. “It’s not always about accuracy and throws. It’s about getting out of some tough situations and he did that today. He scrambled and made some key plays down the stretch.”
Quinn said he would not name a starter until after fall camp to give all applicants a chance to separate themselves from the others. However, he believes that the Bulls will need more than one consistent quarterback if they want to win with their schedule.
The men going for the job are willing to wait for an answer and prove why they should get the first snap in the fall and feel the continued competition will help the entire team improve.
“I think competition is always good,” Licata said. “It’s sports, it’s football. You always compete, you always want to compete. You never want be comfortable with your position, you want to always have someone there. You always want to fight for the job and you want to earn it, so I think it’s great for the team.”
The main target at wideout on the day was Neutz. He finished with six receptions for 112 yards and two touchdowns.
Neutz had surgery on his wrist in November and was fully tested for the first time at the spring game.
“I thought today was a really good test,” Neutz said. “It really is a confidence issue, a mental thing. Structurally, the wrist is healed and the surgery went very well…Going back out there today was an awesome test. I got to block, everything was full go, catch and tackle. It felt good, it was an awesome experience.”
The Bulls are also looking to their tight ends to get more involved in the passing game. Redshirt freshman tight end Matt Weiser and junior tight end Alex Dennison each had over 50 yards receiving and a touchdown.
Junior running back Branden Oliver caught a pass from Licata to start the game and was given the ball for the second play. He led the way in the rushing department with 77 yards, while junior running back Brandon Murie followed with 54.
The game featured a distinct scoring system to determine a winner. Any offensive scores were awarded the traditional amount of points. However, first downs for offensive and third down stops for defensive were worth a point. Additional points were given for other situations as well.
The offense was up 67-19 at the half with the help of five first half touchdowns and a field goal. The teams’ scores were then switched to give the offense an opportunity to play from behind and the defense won a much closer second half, 13-12. Neutz attributed the success of the offense to having learned the system under offensive coordinator Alex Wood last season and the defense still adjusting to a new system and defensive coordinator.