By Neil Patrick Healy
The burning question that has plagued the mind of the Wolf Pack faithful all offseason has finally been answered. Junior Tyler Stewart has been named the starting quarterback for the 2015 season home opener on Sept. 3 against UC Davis. Now fans can just look forward to the other potential questions and storylines that accompany a new season, right? Well, not really. The truth lacks simplicity. Such is life and such is the potential outcome at the quarterback position for Nevada.
The quarterback battle was an arduous process that started the moment former perennial starter Cody Farjardo walked off the field after a 16-3 defeat to the Louisiana Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns in the New Orleans Bowl last December. The competition seemed to have reached its climax last Thursday when head coach Brian Polian named Stewart the starter over redshirt freshmen Hunter Fralick. Polian said that there was no real separation between the two quarterbacks in camp, so the coaches went with the one with the most experience.
“The X-factor was Tyler’s experience,” Polian said. “He’s won a game as a starter, he played at Florida State and he’s played against real competition. We just feel with everything being even statistically the experience wins out.”
Stewart is a large quarterback, standing at 6-foot-4 and weighing 220 pounds, and is known for having a strong arm. Since spring practices, Stewart feels that he has improved his game in multiple areas, but he also feels that there is room for improvement.
“Coming from spring, I feel like I know the offense better and I have improved my movement in the pocket,” Stewart said. “Those are the two things that I’ve improved on the most. I still need to improve on my pocket awareness because I tend to creep up when I step up [in the pocket]. I just need to be more efficient with my feet.”
Stewart’s lone career start was in 2013 against the University of Hawaii, where he went 14-for-20 for 202 yards with three scores. His only playing time in 2014 was in the waning moments of the 49-27 pounding of the UNLV Rebels, where he recorded one rushing attempt for a loss of four yards. Polian says that Stewart will have room for error in the next few games in order to allow room for progress.
“We’re not going to say that he’s on a short leash because that’s not fair,” Polian said. “The guy has to go play and make mistakes just like everyone else does, and we’ll see how it works.”
If Stewart doesn’t have a short leash and has the support of the coaching staff, then what is the catch? Well, history is not on Stewart’s side here. Former Nevada quarterbacks Nick Graziano and Tyler Lantrip come to mind. Graziano and Lantrip were both veteran quarterbacks who won the starting job over inexperienced redshirt freshmen to begin the season. Graziano lost his job to future 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick back in 2007 and Lantrip lost his job to eventual Raiders undrafted free agent Cody Fajardo in 2011.
Stewart has made an effort to ignore this potential story line and is remaining focused on the game ahead of him.
“I’m just going to do what I’m supposed to do, be prepared for what I have to do and lead the offense,” Stewart said. “[The coaches] have named me the starter for UC Davis, so I have to lead the team against UC Davis and the rest will take care of itself.”
There are two potential outcomes when it comes to quarterback this season. Stewart could change the recent trend of veteran quarterbacks being deposed by redshirt freshmen mid-season and start the whole season. The other potential outcome is the Fralick era at Nevada begins while Stewart falls into obscurity along with Graziano and Lantrip. One can’t be sure. It’s best to keep in mind that truth lacks simplicity. Nevada fans can only wait for the storylines to transpire on the field.
Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Neilthejuiceman