Since the days leading up to the turn of the century, the McMaster Marauders have been blessed with some pretty talented quarterbacks.
You don't have to go all the way back to Russ Jackson to find greatness, as Ben Chapdelaine, Jon Behie, Kyle Quinlan and Marshall Ferguson have all hoisted the Yates Cup in the last decade plus. Add in other pivots like Adam Archibald and Asher Hastings and it's easy to see there's been an impressive line of succession at the position.
Right now the Marauders are having a tough time establishing who the next person in that line may be.
Hastings played his second and final season in 2016, meaning there was an opening to take over as the program's starting quarterback. Three young players have played so far this season, and all three have struggled.
"It's a talented group," McMaster head coach Greg Knox told In The Huddle. "But it's young and inexperienced. It's a good problem to have long term."
The problem right now is finding someone who can take the offensive reins in the short term.
Third-year Marauder Dylan Astrom was the early favourite to start the season opener against Carleton. He was the only one of the trio with OUA experience, albeit a career total of just ten passes thrown last year.
All three played in the pre-season game against Saskatchewan, and when it was time to play the Ravens, freshman Andreas Dueck from Winnipeg had emerged as the starter.
Despite having additional time to prepare because of a first-week bye, Dueck struggled in his debut. He completed just nine of 22 passes for 65 yards, with the defence carrying MAC to a 23-9 win.
Last week's game was an even tougher assignment for any quarterback, let alone a first-year player. The Western Mustangs headed to Hamilton and, not unexpectedly, Dueck struggled. After throwing for just 35 yards in the first 30 minutes, he was replaced by fellow freshman Jackson White from Cambridge.
White was more effective in his half, finishing 8-13 for 103 yards, but he also added 97 yards rushing on 10 carries.
Though Knox wouldn't commit to a starter during the interview, he did say that White was a bit different that the other two QBs.
"Jackson is a bit of a throwback, old-school kid," said Knox. "He'll pull it down and run with it, but will also grip it and rip it. He'll do exactly what you want him to do."
The head coach was quick to praise all three of his players, saying they were all hard working, and possessed strong arms. He now has a decision to make about a quarterback, though it's something he hasn't had to do before.
Knox was a ball-hawking safety in his playing career, first as a Vanier Cup winner at Laurier, then as a CFL all-star and two-time Grey Cup champion in Calgary. He was a defensive coordinator at McMaster and U-of-T before coaching defensive backs with the CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers before returning to MAC.
After trying to make life miserable for quarterbacks throughout his entire football life, he now has to evaluate them as potential starters.
Isn't that akin to asking a dog to analyze the sleeping habits of a cat?
"It's the same process no matter the position," explained the coach. "You try to evaluate objectively, which is tough to do unless the kids get opportunities. It's one thing to evaluate them in practices or an exhibition setting, another thing to see them in a game."
A proper assessment of the QBs play is made even tougher by some injuries to the offensive line. Jakub Szott, Kyle Maertens and Josh Lolli have all been banged up, leaving an inexperienced group even greener.
One of the three pivots will get the nod in what lines up as another tough game this week as the 3-0 Ottawa Gee Gees head to Hamilton. The home side will have to lean heavily on its defence again, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
"So far we've played gritty, hard-nosed defence," Knox told OUA.ca. "We need to reduce our mistakes. The Western game was defined by a couple of mistakes here and there."
It's somewhat surprising that the coach was talking about his defence making errors, because in the first two games they've been adept at forcing their opponents to make mistakes.
Against Carleton, MAC's defence scored a TD, created six turnovers and recorded five sacks. Versus Western it forced four turnovers while adding three more sacks.
The mixture of exciting defence and inexperience at quarterback makes for an interesting personnel stew. Knox summed up nicely where the program is right now.
"I'm bullish," he said, "We're playing with more grit and resilience and that's a key ingredient. We realize who we are right now. It's enough to see potential, and it's tough to be patient."
The O Zone:
McMaster pushed Western hard, but fell short. As mentioned in the column above, MAC's defence played relatively well, while the offence struggled, particularly through the air. The Marauders also took a dozen penalties for 110 yards, tough to do against the OUA's alpha dogs. After missing last season with an injury, Yannick Harou saw his first four carries of the year, but it was once again Alex Taylor leading the way with 99 yards on the ground. Malik Besseghieur added 101 receiving yards giving him 349 so far this year, tops in USports. Fraser Sopik blocked a punt and recovered it for a touchdown, he also recorded nine tackles for the 'Stangs and recovered a pair of fumbles.
There were chants of "3-and-oh" from the over 3,600 in the stands as Waterloo remained unbeaten with a 28-23 win over Toronto. Lucas McConnell played most of the game at QB for the Warriors after freshman Tre Ford left with an injury. Richmond Nketiah caught a pair of TD passes. Waterloo is 3-0 for the first time since 2007. Varsity split the QB reps between Connor Ennis and Clay Sequeira both of whom showed some promise, though both struggled at times. Kaleb Leach rushed for 91 yards on 15 carries for the Blues. The Warriors will try to make it 4-0 this week at Carleton.
After losing to Ottawa in double overtime, then to Western in OT, Guelph took out its frustrations on Windsor, winning 81-10. It was 52-3 at halftime. James Roberts threw for over 300 yards and four TDs, three of which came in the first quarter. Johnny Augustine had over 100 combined rushing and receiving yards, while Jacob Scarfone caught six passes for 89 yards. The Gryphons Ryan Isenor had the biggest play, returning a punt 125 yards for a TD. Alain Cimankinda was in the Lancer backfield all day, recording 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for a loss. Marvin Gaynor had a nice day on the ground for Windsor, carrying 19 times for 161 yards, including a 70-yard TD run.
York gave Ottawa all it could handle before falling 26-17 to the 3-0 Gee-Gees. The Lions led 17-16 after three quarters and it wasn't until Donald Shaw broke a 35-yard TD run in the final minute that the Gee-Gees put them away. Shaw finished with 138 rushing yards on the day. Victor Twynstra was back at QB for Ottawa after missing the Queen's game win an injury. Jamie Harry had a pair of picks for the garnet and grey. Brett Hunchak bounced back from a rough outing against Waterloo with a 263-yard, 2-TD performance - he'd throw three interceptions though. Jesse Amankwaa rushed for 159 yards on 23 carries for the Lions. Ottawa will travel to McMaster trying to go 4-0.
It was a Saturday night game at Laurier as the Hawks won the battle of the birds, beating the Ravens 38-35. A pair of Carleton TD passes in the last 1:17 made the score more respectable. Laurier's offence was impressive, as Michael Knevel threw for 373 yards, while Levondre Gordon rushed for 208 more, adding a pair of touchdowns. The Ravens recorded 18 sacks in their first two games, but didn't get to Knevel once. Nathan Mesher was perfect on five field-goal attempts for the Golden Hawks. Michael Arruda threw for 441 yards and four TDs for the visitors. Kyle VanWynsberghe caught eight passes for 160 yards, while Phil Iloki also went over the century mark in receiving yards. Their teammate, Leon Cenerini, recorded 11 tackles