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Published: Sunday, 4/15/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

COMMENTARY

2-QB system rare, but it works for UT

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

There is an old saying, probably first said by someone old, that if a football team plays two quarterbacks it has no quarterback.

Matt Campbell is far from old. He is, in fact, the youngest head coach in Division I football after three years as one of, if not the youngest, offensive coordinators at the college level.

So his Toledo Rockets would figure to be the last to adhere to an old saying. And they have not and will not.

Next fall, for the third straight season, Austin Dantin and Terrance Owens will be slated to share the position. Call them quarterbacks 1-A and 1-B in whatever order, depending on the week. One will start, one will not, one will finish, both will play.

UT insiders suggest that Owens established himself as quarterback 1-A during spring drills, but both had teams to lead in Friday night's Blue-Gold spring game at the Glass Bowl. And the two combined to produce 467 of the 684 yards of total offense generated in a game shortened considerably by a running clock.

Watching from the sideline, Gene Swick was one of six ex-Rockets serving as honorary coaches. He knows a little about the position. He was Toledo's starting quarterback from 1973-75, graduated as the NCAA's career leader in total offense, won the Sammy Baugh Trophy as the nation's top passer, and remains the only Mid-American Conference quarterback to earn first team All-American honors from a major service.

Now on the far side of 55 and looking up at 60, Swick is not necessarily old, but he would under normal circumstances adhere to that old saying.

"Alternating at the position was never considered back when I played … thankfully," he said. "It would have been tough for me because I think it's a rhythm position. I was competitive in my approach. If it wasn't happening in the first or second quarter, you had to be confident and keep at it and make it happen in the third quarter or fourth. I probably wouldn't have appreciated [sitting out] a series or two. Uh-uh.

"But that's not true in the case of these two guys. They make it work. They both bring strengths to the offense. They get along really well. And they're not selfish at all, which is the No. 1 reason it works."

They also are super competitive, which is why Campbell, then UT's offensive coordinator, happened upon his quarterback approach during the 2010 season with Owens coming off a redshirt season and Dantin in place as the starter.

"The competition between the two in practice led to this," Campbell said. "Tuesdays and Wednesdays felt like game days. It was intense. We decided the guy who plays the best in practice would start, both would get their series, we'd determine the hot hand, and go with it. I think I've been honest with them, and they've trusted me to do the right thing for the team."

Indeed, the word "team" comes up in conversations with both quarterbacks more than any other.

"You'd always love to be the guy and take every snap, but what's best for the team?" Dantin said. "Winning is a cure-all. As long as the team is winning, we're both happy. Everybody's happy."

Added Owens: "I'd be honored to be the starter, but at the end of the day, the only thing you can control is that we're a team, and the goal is to win the MAC championship as a team."

In the last two seasons, Dantin has started 19 games and Owens seven, but the playing time and production have been pretty even, especially when you factor in Dantin's rushing statistics.

The dual system paid huge dividends last season as UT averaged a whopping 481.3 offensive yards per game and scored 549 points in a 9-4 season.

And when Dantin was out with a concussion late in the year, Owens was ready to step in full-time without skipping a beat, leading UT to two MAC road wins and a 42-41 thriller over Air Force in the Military Bowl. At season's end, the 6-foot-4 lefty had set UT and MAC records for completion percentage (.722) and ranked sixth in the nation in pass efficiency based in part on 18 touchdowns vs. just three interceptions.

Dantin wasn't far behind with a .650 completion percentage. Over two seasons, they have combined for 5,924 passing yards, 53 TDs, and 20 interceptions.

"One of the great things is their completion percentage; both were in the top 10 or 12 in the country," Campbell said. "It's a very quarterback-friendly system. We take it out of their hands. It's in our hands as coaches. They just have to play smart and react. They are both smart, productive, and efficient.

"They are two guys who are unselfish and who care about each other. They're great competitors who have bought into the team concept and put that ahead of any individual stuff. Is that unusual? I'd say yes."

Would it work otherwise?

I'd say no.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: |dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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