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No QB answers blowin' in the wind


POLSON - Ahh, nothing like a little spring breeze to make a controversy a little more interesting. Actually, only in Havre, or the Arctic Circle, would 35-mph winds really be considered a breeze.

For people on the western side of the Rocky Mountains, particularly the University of Montana football team, the spring winds that brushed across the Pirate Sports Complex were a certified catastrophe.

Most people, coaching staff included, hoped that there would be clear-cut favorite to be the Griz starting QB next season. But when the wind, dust and wounded-duck passes finally settled on Saturday, the brewing quarterback controversy was about as clear as the Milk River.

To modify the great Bob Dylan song, "The answer, my friend, wasn't blowin' in the wind. The answer wasn't blowin' in the wind."

I had planned on taking a weekend of rest and relaxation in Missoula as a short break from work and also from the wind and chill that was expected to hit the Hi-Line.

Unfortunately, I got very little rest in Missoula and the weather in the western part of the state was no better than it was here. The scrimmage was just a bonus.

After reading about it in the papers and listening to Griz fans around Missoula already choosing favorites in the building debate, I decided to check out the scrimmage so I could form my own opinion on this, as if anyone actually cares what my opinion is, but, hey, it's my column.

Quarterback controversies are nothing new to UM. The last three seasons in particular have had fans bickering among themselves on who should man the most visible and criticized position in all of Montana sports.

Three years ago, fans couldn't decide whether it should be the oft-injured senior, Drew Miller, or the brash, young sophomore, John Edwards. The last two seasons, fans couldn't decide whether it should be Edwards or back-up Brandon Neill as the starter.

The controversy divided the Griz nation and last season ended with blame and boos blowing through Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

Fast forward to the 2003 spring season. With both Edwards and Neill gone, along with third-string quarterback Brett Staninger also out of eligibility, the starting job appeared to belong to highly touted junior college transfer Jeff Disney.

An All-American at Chaffey Junior College, Disney is a quarterback trapped in a linebacker's body with a lightning bolt for a right arm. He wasn't just the favorite to be the starter, he WAS the starter for the upcoming season.

But right about the time when the waters seemed to be calming around the Grizzlies, the winds of change produced a ripple, followed by a tidal wave, that muddied the waters once again.

The ripple was the transfer of former University of Colorado quarterback Craig Ochs to UM. Ochs, who started as a freshman for the Buffalos, decided to leave the program after differences with CU head coach Gary Barnett and a myriad of injuries.

Ochs' transfer to the Griz was big news, but paled in comparison to the announcement that head coach Joe Glenn would be leaving for the University of Wyoming along with most of his staff.

With a new staff coming in, the slight edge that Disney held on Ochs in terms of already knowing the Griz offensive playbook was gone. As is customary with most head coaching changes, new Griz head coach Bob Hauck announced that all of the players are starting fresh in terms of earning starting positions.

Sure, there is some competition at linebacker, defensive back and wide receiver making news, and come fall, running back will also have some competition. But it's at quarterback that everyone's attention is focused.

Up until Saturday, the competition had been pretty even. They've shown flashes of brilliance while also showing the confusion that comes with installing a new offense.

To sum up Saturday in one word: ugly. Ochs and Disney combined to complete 6 of 21 passes for a whopping total of 41 yards and three interceptions. Some of the passes couldn't be called wounded ducks out of fairness to ducks.

In fact, the best pass of the day was thrown by a running back. Tailback J.R. Waller completed the longest pass of the day, hooking up with wide receiver Tate Hancock on a 65-yard halfback pass for a touchdown to open the game. Unfortunately, a penalty nullified the score.

What is very apparent is that neither player distinguished himself as the clear-cut favorite for the job. If anything, it just made the competition closer. Griz fans won't know until the weeks leading into the first game against Maine who the starting QB is.

Personally, from what little I could determine from the game, I don't think it really matters who the starter is. They are basically the same quarterback in that the Griz can do very well with either one.

Sure, they have different strengths and weaknesses. Disney is bigger and stronger while Ochs makes up for lack of size with athleticism and speed. They both have well above average arms, with Ochs showing better touch on deep balls and Disney better strength throwing to the out patterns. It is going to come down to who can grasp the new offense best and can make plays when they're on the field.

Realistically, in football today you must have two quarterbacks who can play at a high level during the season. Injuries can and do happen. And teams without a solid back-up QB are just one bad hit away from ending their season.

Ochs has proven to be injury-prone after suffering three concussions while playing with Colorado and also missing time with ankle and shoulder injuries. He plays with the same type of disregard for injury that Edwards played with in his time at UM. Ochs has said he won't be afraid to run if flushed from the pocket and that he wouldn't avoid contact at all costs.

Disney doesn't have a history of being injured, but neither did Drew Miller when he came to UM, and at one point he got so beat up there was an ice shortage for all of his injuries.

In a way. having the controversy is good because it means you have two players who are good enough to start.

So who is the starter? Is it Ochs? Or is it Disney?

The speculation will continue as we wait 3 months to find out.


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