When Joe Southwick ends his career as a Boise State Bronco sometime in mid-December of this year, the greatest quarterback competition of the decade in Boise will begin. Grant Hedrick, Nick Patti, Ryan Finley, Jalen Greene…they’ll all be there.
But who’s to say that the man who emerges from the pack will actually be a step up from Southwick, considering that each of the four players mentioned has had very limited on-field experience?
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Hedrick will be named the starter of the 2014 Boise State Broncos football team. The redshirt junior has been No. 2 on the depth chart for two seasons now, and he has looked favorable compared to redshirt freshman Patti at almost every turn.
He has also been receiving much more playing time than Patti during the 2013 season, and he has made the most of his audition time.
Take two weeks ago at Fresno State, for instance. Coming in for Southwick after the starter suffered a shoulder injury, Hedrick fired an 18-yard touchdown pass to Troy Ware.
That was his first, and last, pass attempt of the game. But unlike any of the action he or any other backup had seen up to that point this season, the touchdown actually mattered. Boise State was trailing the Bulldogs 17-10 in the second quarter at the time.
The fact that Hedrick can come in cold and produce immediately should make Broncos fans very happy. Last season, it took Southwick nearly half the season to earn enough confidence from the coaching staff that he was tasked with slinging the ball around the field. With Hedrick, the Broncos may be ready to air it out much earlier in the season than they were able to do when Southwick was a new starter.
But perhaps more importantly, Hedrick possesses a skill that Boise State fans haven’t truly seen in a starting quarterback since Jared Zabransky.
The 6’0”, 202-pound junior can run. Really run. In fact, he has 79 yards on the ground to Southwick’s 106 this season. Hedrick has six rushing attempts on the year. Southwick has 36.
To be fair, it isn’t Southwick’s job to run the ball regularly. And Hedrick’s stats are largely inflated by a 50-yard touchdown run during mop up time in the Tennessee-Martin game on September 7. But it has been noted that Hedrick is a very capable rusher dating back to his high school days.
With Jay Ajayi and Aaron Baltazar at running back, having Hedrick at quarterback could propel the Broncos into the discussion for best rushing attacks in the nation. Chris Petersen has long been known as a coach who prefers to control things with the run game first and foremost, and he would essentially have a three-headed monster with Hedrick at the helm.
Boise State has had a rapid progression at quarterback regarding running ability. Kellen Moore could escape pressure but couldn’t run. Joe Southwick can move fairly adeptly but prefers to look for receivers downfield (and still makes poor decisions from time to time as a result). Hedrick is the kind of player who Boise State hasn’t really had under the tutelage of Coach Petersen: a dual threat.
Obviously, Hedrick isn’t perfect. In the second quarter of this past Saturday’s game against Southern Mississippi, Hedrick fumbled the ball on a play that was already going to result in a loss of yards. The turnover resulted in the Golden Eagles’ only points of the game.
But then he’ll do something impressive, like completing all three of his pass attempts for 45 yards in the same game.
It may be a bit early to speculate on Boise State’s 2014 starting quarterback. Keep in mind, Patti was highly regarded when he came to Boise and both he and Hedrick have a lot of time to make their case.
For right now, though, Hedrick has a leg up. And based on the limited serving size we've gotten so far, he appears to have the legs and readiness to lead to be a step up from Southwick.