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Thursday, September 28, 2023


A tale of two QBs

For the second consecutive year, the UH football team enters fall camp with another battle for the starting quarterback job on its hands.

But unlike his predecessor, rookie head coach Kevin Sumlin seems to have the best solution for this situation.

Last season, former head coach Art Briles allowed redshirt sophomore Case Keenum and junior Blake Joseph to split the duties early on before Keenum emerged as the top gun en route to being named Conference USA Freshman of the Year. Sumlin, however, has pledged that there will be a full-time starter in place when the Cougars face Southern University in their season-opener Aug. 30 at Robertson Stadium.

"I think competition makes us all better, so those two guys will compete for the job," Sumlin told the Houston Chronicle. "But we’ll have a starter before the first game. Right now, I don’t see this (quarterback) being a rotational deal."

One couldn’t agree more with this strategy.

Unlike the positions of running back or tight end, rotating players is usually never a good idea with quarterbacks, especially when the two players are as different as day and night.

Keenum doesn’t have the strongest arm, but he has great mobility, pocket presence and decision-making skills, and his quick feet allow him to pick up yards on the ground. He threw for 2,259 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushed for 412 yards and nine scores to help the Cougars finish 8-5 last season.

Joseph, however, has a cannon for an arm, but usually had that deer-in-the-headlights look when faced with vicious pass rushes last season. The Cougars’ offensive line wasn’t talented enough to make up for Joseph’s shortcoming, and he paid dearly, being sacked 21 times in 11 games (In contrast, Keenum suffered 13 sacks in 13 games).

Combine Keenum’s decision-making and mobility with Joseph’s arm, and you’d probably have an All-American caliber quarterback on your hands. Maybe Briles figured he could somewhat accomplish this by playing both quarterbacks last season, but that experiment produced fewer rewards than he imagined.

The Cougars didn’t really take off last season until Keenum took the starting role by storm. It makes no sense to retry Briles’ experiment this season at the risk of getting off to another slow start.

The job simply should go to the quarterback who proves he can handle the high-octane offense that Sumlin and offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen will showcase this season. The offense, which should somewhat resemble Texas Tech’s scheme, appears to be a better fit for Joseph, who can throw bombs all day with his big-time arm.

But the starter still needs to be able to make smart decisions and move the ball with consistency. The edge goes to Keenum here.

Whoever gets the job will have to shoulder the load more than he did last season. With running back Anthony Alridge (1,597 yards, 14 TDs) and wide receiver Donnie Avery (1,456 yards, 7 TDs) having moved on to the greener pastures of the NFL, the list of explosive weapons is a bit shorter.

Neither Joseph nor Keenum has an edge in the competition, but Sumlin expects that one of them will emerge as the No. 1 guy during two-a-days. He also thinks the Cougars can win with either quarterback.

One thing’s for sure: The starter will have one heck of a backup.

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