CSU’s Quarterback Conundrum: Mike Bobo must choose among three QBs

Mike Bobo. Credit: Austin Humphreys, USA TODAY Sports

If you have three quarterbacks, you have none.

For Colorado State, they have no starting quarterback. Head coach Mike Bobo said so himself Saturday after the Rams 23-14 win over the UTSA Roadrunners, a game which featured CSU’s strong running attack and an increased effort by the defensive unit, especially in the second half.

“We don’t have a starting quarterback right now and people will say, ‘Oh, how can you not have a starting quarterback?'” Bobo said postgame, Saturday. “It’s pretty evident we don’t have a starting quarterback watching us try to throw the ball. We’ve got to figure out what we can do, figure out who makes the best decisions and get us in the right plays.”

In that search for a starting quarterback, Bobo’s now played three different young men at the position, starting redshirt junior Nick Stevens in Week 1 and graduate transfer Faton Bauta on Saturday before benching Bauta for true freshman Collin Hill.

Against CU in the Rocky Mountain Showdown, Stevens struggled mightily, going 6-20 for 31 yards with two interceptions.

For Bauta, against a lesser opponent in UTSA this Saturday, the graduate transfer didn’t look much better, going 6-18 for 82 yards before he was basically given the hook. What Bauta did well was create some excitement with his feet, including carrying the ball four times for 39 yards, but that didn’t help CSU’s passing game.

Bauta sailed some receivers, while he left some of his passes short, down in the ground as he was inconsistent all game long. Of note was his stellar, 45-yard completion to Elroy Masters just before halftime which set the Rams up with a field goal, but that was the lone standout pass by Bauta of the contest.

So, with Colorado State clinging to a 20-14 lead, three minutes into the fourth quarter, Hill had his redshirt burned by coach Bobo, and immediately his 11-yard completion to Masters was a marked improvement in zip, accuracy and timing. There were “oohs” from the crowd with the first down.

Two plays later, Hill showed his youth and inexperience, nearly throwing an interception as it hit a UTSA defender in the hands, but was dropped. Those “oohs” quickly turned into “Ahhhs!”

Then, two drives later, Hill hit on another pass, this time for 15 yards. But then Bauta went back into the game as the two traded off on the team’s final offensive drive of the day, each of them contributing to one, last field goal and the final, 23-14 win.

So, what went into Bobo’s decision to play Hill?

“I wasn’t real reluctant when we couldn’t complete a pass,” Bobo said of playing Hill and ending his redshirt possibilities. “He worked all week with the twos, him and Nick split time. We felt he had the better week and felt if we were struggling throwing the ball we’d give him an opportunity.

“He didn’t play great, either, but he had two big completions, one was on a third down, which was a good pass over a corner to Elroy (Masters) and he stuck it on him,” the head coach continued.

All spring, summer and into fall camp, this was a three-man race for the starting quarterback position. In spring, it looked like Bauta won the job with his three-touchdown performance in the annual Green and Gold Game. Then, in camp, it seemed Stevens was the most polished passer. And this week, when the team’s second official depth chart of the season was published, the “or” was taken away between Nick Stevens and Collin Hill’s names, meaning the team was trying to make it clear Hill would not start this week. Which is what made it even more interesting to see the freshman actually take the field in the fourth quarter.

Usually, Bobo will wait to make evaluations of players until after he watches the game film from at home or in his office, which has stellar views of Horsetooth rock. But, without going into too much detail, Bobo described what he saw and liked out of the freshman, Hill, as well as in Bauta’s play.

“You can see the ball comes off with velocity. You can see that he’s confident in his throwing. He gets on top of the ball,” Mike Bobo said of Hill. “He’s going to compete this week and give us the best opportunity to win.

“Now, I still believe Faton will play,” Bobo continued, leaving it up in the air as we move forward to Week 3. “It gave us an opportunity to win with his running. His ability to run the ball with his legs. He got some huge yards running the ball, which was big for our offense.”

Basically, Ram fans who show up to Sonny Lubick Field next Saturday should expect to see Bauta and Hill play, as together they give the team the best chance to win.

When we asked if Hill will be the starter as the season moves forward, Bobo said, “I’m not going to make that decision right now. I’ve got to look at the tape and evaluate like I do every week.”

And that doesn’t eliminate Stevens, either, who Bobo said he’s, “Gotta compete. He’s got to hit his target.”

All three quarterbacks can improve in that aspect, hitting their intended target, while each of them have specific things they can work on, too.

For Hill, his inexperience led to leaving the offense in two run plays that his head coach wished he would have checked out of, causing one drive to stall in the fourth quarter. Bauta can improve by simply hitting his receivers in the hands, not overthrowing and then underthrowing them. And Stevens just has to compete harder, not take a back seat to the other two in the heat of battle.

Speaking of that battle, Bauta didn’t sulk after he was told to sit for the freshman Hill.

“I always walk in feeling like I am the quarterback,” Bauta said after the win. “My demeanor’s not going to change. My psyche’s not going to change, as a player, as a quarterback.

“He’s still my little brother,” Bauta added of Hill, who he’s been mentoring since spring.

Of course, the Rams will run the ball — it’s Bobo’s preferred mode of attack on offense — and it’s their strength considering the depth in the backfield as well as the offensive line’s cohesiveness if they can build on today’s win. But Colorado State must be able to pass the ball with consistency, too, or watch opponents constantly stack the box with six, seven or even eight defenders.

One of these three young men will have to step their game up and take the reins of the offense, or Bobo will continue to use a combination of them as he hopes something, anything, will work.

For this Saturday, he’s a victor, his team’s a victor and they can move onto the next week feeling better about the program as a whole.

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