You can call it backup quarterback syndrome, or maybe it’s just the human nature that surrounds wanting most what you inevitably can’t have.
But as the Kansas State football team has limped to a 2-3 start, with two of those losses coming by less than a touchdown and none coming by way of a blowout, doubting the effectiveness and decision-making of the coaching staff has been rampant among the K-State faithful.
Anytime a team has two quarterbacks of similar talent levels and starts losing close games, wanting a look at the backup becomes second nature. You see it in nearly every sport at almost every important position.
In the case of K-State, you’ve got a future Hall of Fame coach in Bill Snyder, whose likeness was erected outside the stadium that bears his name — the same coach who took last year’s team all the way to a Big 12 championship and a BCS bowl.
Yet fans, who don’t watch practice and have no real idea what goes on behind the curtain, play head coach anyway, despite having no idea how to fix the team.
Well, this week, those fans got their wish. After four games of playing second-fiddle to Jake Waters at quarterback, Daniel Sams got his shot on Saturday.
And you know what?
K-State still lost.
You can say that Sams showed flashes of brilliance, that he was a few mistakes away from getting a win. I’m sure some believe Waters would have lost by three touchdowns and Sams was the only thing keeping the score respectable.
That’s all fine. But it doesn’t change the fact that Sams didn’t win the game. You could even argue it was his mistakes that cost K-State the chance to win. Would Waters have been worse? We’ll never know.
But after weeks of touting how well Sams can throw the ball based solely on word of mouth and his performance in a meaningless spring game, he came out throwing Saturday. The 15 of 21 looks good. The three interceptions? Not so much.
Now lest anyone be confused by my intentions, this is not a column written to bash Sams.
He’s a redshirt-sophomore in what was essentially his first chance to come out and control the offense. He played most of the game without his top two receivers and behind an offensive line that has largely underachieved all year.
Sams was put in a tough spot and responded with some nice plays and some hard-to-watch plays. He’s a young player who came out and played like one on Saturday.
No, the point here is as fans, and even those in the media like myself, don’t know what’s really going on here. There’s a reason Sams wasn’t the quarterback coming into this season. Snyder and his staff chose Waters for a reason. We may never know what it is, but let’s not pretend like they flipped a coin in August.
Sams has talent — no doubt about it. But it’s absurd to pretend Waters has no talent, or that given the right play calls, he couldn’t win games at K-State. When you throw the ball to the wrong team, athleticism, or lack thereof, goes out the window no matter who you have at quarterback.
Sams has that spark — an extra gear in the running game that suits what Snyder has done the last few years — but Saturday’s performance showed us his deep ball needs work.
Clearly, neither quarterback has been a polished, consistent play-maker this season. Both have their flaws and both need a lesson in valuing the football, which has to be bugging Snyder more than anything else.
The bottom line is, after only five games this year, the team still has plenty to play for. It wouldn’t be fair to play one guy if the other gives you a better chance to win. It’s far too early to throw in the towel and go with Sams because you think he can be special next season.
Perhaps Snyder — yes, the same Snyder who has 172 wins as head coach and is the sole reason K-State even has a football program today — should get the benefit of the doubt on this one.
He watches practice every day and says after every game that he thinks both Sams and Waters deserve to play.
Why not believe him?