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Sunday Morning Quarterback

Sunday Morning Quarterback

Sunday, August 20, 2006

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Story updated at bottom

Very weird about face out west Sunday night, where, just two days after naming "humbled" senior Sam Keller the gatekeeper of an inevitable 3,700-yard, 33-touchdown season and extolling fans to "rally behind Sam," Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter has abruptly handed the keys instead to sophomore Rudy Carpenter (Big Hat Tip to Devil fan and busy new dad Mark).

The Associated Press is reporting a possible bottom-drops-out scenario for Keller:

"It's simple. I made a mistake on the quarterback situation and I'm changing my mind," Koetter said after Sunday's workout. "We're going to start Rudy Carpenter. I've excused Sam Keller from practice to consider his options."
(Emphasis SMQ's)

So what, exactly, can take a coach from officially installing a productive fifth-year senior as the leader of his offense and team to telling him to hit the showers for good in less than 36 hours? Grassroots politics, apparently:

According to the East Valley Tribune, several players requested a meeting with Koetter after the initial decision and told the coach they believed the job should go to Carpenter.

Neither Koetter nor Carpenter would confirm that the meeting took place.

"I talked to so many people about this," Koetter said. "This has been weighing heavy on my mind for a long, long time and I'm the one that screwed it up. I have to live with it. I'm also the one who has to fix it."

Koetter sounds like a coach remorseful about making a call to go for it on fourth down that backfired in the heat of a game. SMQ has never heard a coach on the record with that kind of statement about personnel - especially within two days of a superficially predictable decision in practice, before a game is played, and it hasn't even had a chance to go wrong. The very short initial East Valley Tribune article, the first link above, does not, as the AP indicates, mention any kind of team meeting (an earlier version may have), but it does say "initial reports" were that Keller was out the door. E-mailer Mark referred to this as a "player revolt." The competition had previously been described as "a pressure-cooker" in which neither Keller nor Carpenter had distinguished himself over the other. Unless half the rest of the team threatened to quit over this move, it is completely baffling on Koetter's part. And if that is the case, it's baffling the coach wouldn't realize the players' general sentiments before naming a player College Football Resource calls "perhaps arrogant" and " always...on the brink of meltdown with his on-field emotions" as a starter.

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Have Sam Keller and his ASU teammates lost that lovin' feelin'?

Not that the confirmation of Keller's defection will have nearly the impact on ASU's January wishes and Rose Bowl dreams as Rhett Bomar's disgraced sojourn from Oklahama to as yet parts unknown will to the fortune of his former team. SMQ and roommate of SMQ will have no trouble plugging in Carpenter on online NCAA Football battles, where the high-octane Devils have become the household's flagship Web team. Carpenter was more than capable in his debut following Keller's hand injury, completing a significantly higher percent of his passes (68.4 percent to Keller's 58.7) for more yards per game (355 in complete performances to 344 by Keller) and fewer interceptions (2 to 9) while leading the nation in passing efficiency. This as a true freshman.

It's true that Keller faced the Devils' toughest defensive opponents (LSU, USC, Oregon) and still did eye-poppingly well numbers-wise, while Carpenter was busy later in the year torching the likes of Washington, UCLA and Rutgers; this tougher competition is a good explanation for Carpenter's 4-1 record as a starter, vs. Keller at 3-3 (SMQ is counting the Stanford loss as a wash, as both played significantly; Keller started, Carpenter took most of the snaps). Rudy also padded his stats in mop up duty against the woeful Northwestern defense, going 7-8 with a touchdown, all the better to improve the numbers against "winning teams." So the better numbers alone aren't necessarily telling a complete story in this case (as they so rarely do).

But rest assured Carpenter will resume ripping up ASU's record book in short order regardless the opponent - or at least he'd better, as stacked as the skill talent is at every position around him, and being Mr. Popularity and all. The veteran offensive line - which all of us can envision halfheartedly swiping at blitzers and missing assignments as Keller was crushed into either futile stoicism or frustrated belligerance - will apparently have reason now to keep their boy clean, pick him up after hits and pick fights with cheapshotting linebackers, etc. Always fun (not Leftwich Gets a Lift fun, maybe, but still an added element to the drama of a game).

As for Koetter, SMQ can't decide if suddenly overturning a decision that hasn't even taken effect, much less had time to fail, at the heed of his players is sound democracy in action or going soft when the inmates knock on the asylum's office door. Freezing Keller out completely would seem to be an overreaction, but that's without knowing the severity of the players' reaction or what went on in the alleged team meeting - if such a meeting took place - or any other fly-on-the-wall details. More is up here than meets the eye. Message board-skulking types will commence with conspiracy theories straightaway, no doubt, and scandalous, irresponsible gossip is encouraged.

UPDATE, 7:40 a.m.
The Arizona Republic confirms the meeting through receiver Terry Richardson - suspended by Koetter in the Spring - who called the pow wow "a mutual thing" among the team's player leadership (SMQ presumes "leader" in this case is an official title for a sort of player council member). Carpenter is also quoted as saying, after being named the backup Friday, ""I felt like I'm going to go to this scrimmage and play good and show everybody why I should be the starting quarterback or I might not even go at all." (emphasis SMQ's)

Carpenter is not contrite in the Tribune's more fleshed out version this morning, either. That story, along with columnist Scott Bordow, also says sources "close to the program" reported a meeting with 19 players on Saturday. Bordow's editorial echoed SMQ's initial sentiments:

When the players voiced their support of Carpenter — essentially throwing Keller under the bus — Koetter presumably decided it was best for the team if Carpenter was the starter.

If that’s the case — and we can’t be sure because Koetter wouldn’t go into specifics Sunday — then shame on the coach and his players.

Keller deserved better from his teammates. He lost his job because of an injury, played in the spring even when he wasn’t 100 percent, and now he’s the victim of a mutiny? How shameful.

Keller also deserved more support from his head coach. If Koetter truly believed Keller earned the starting job, he should have told his players to shut up and play. Let the inmates run the asylum, and chaos is soon to follow.

If Koetter was worried that the players’ dissatisfaction with Keller would cause dissension in the locker room and issues on the field, well, it’s his job to quash those problems.

Even if Carpenter threatened to transfer, that shouldn't have caused Keller to lose his job.

It would be a terrible precedent to set. Not happy? Play the transfer card, and if you’re important enough, you’ll get what you want.

Who does Carpenter think he is, Jorge Rafael Videla?

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11:45 PM

"I will not follow that man into combat."
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