While Arizona Wildcats fans are still waiting on official word from coach Rich Rodriguez on who will be the team’s starting quarterback tomorrow night against NAU, the Lumberjacks surprised their fans on Monday when coach Jerome Souers announced his man.
The Jacks will go with sophomore Kyren Poe over junior Chase Cartwright. At first blush, the decision is certainly a curious one. Poe was the fourth-string QB last year and was moved to wide receiver.
Cartwright, meanwhile, started a few games and led the Jacks to a win at UNLV when starter Cary Grossart was out with an injury.
But, to the folks that follow the program closely, it wasn’t that curious of a call.
To find out more about NAU’s quarterback situation and the Jacks as a whole, we talked to NAU radio analyst Kevin Stephens. Stephens is a former NAU quarterback and is entering his ninth season as the team’s color commentator.
Here’s what he had to say:
Were you surprised when Souers named Poe the starter over Cartwright?
A: “Surprised is overstating it. I knew that it was close. It really could have gone either way. It made sense from the standpoint from what Kyren brings athletically. He has the ability to extend the play and he becomes a threat. Chase is a great leader, has a very good arm and could be productive and may still be productive. But, he probably doesn’t bring that athletic element as much as Kyren does.”
What do you think Souers values in a quarterback?
A: “Number one, leadership. You always have to lead your team in good times and bad. Also, he wants a good decision-maker, someone that’s not going to put your football team in bad situations with ball security. To follow that up, he wants somebody who is a weapon. There’s a lot of ways to be a weapon. When you can bring multiple facets to that arsenal, that’s certainly appealing. He’s still very high on Chase Cartwright. He’s been an incredible leader and led the team to a win at UNLV last year. I think he feels like two guys could lead this team.”
How surprised were you to see Poe charge up the depth chart the way he did and how much better has he gotten?
A: “I haven’t seen him a ton at quarterback prior to this spring. He was a fourth-string quarterback a year ago. They played three quarterbacks a year ago when Grossart and Cartwright got hurt and Jordan Perry came in and was the guy as the third-stringer. When two of them got healthy, they moved Kyren to wide receiver. I’m sure it was somewhat experimental. He didn’t see any significant playing time there, but it shows how they feel about his athleticism. In the spring, it became apparent that Kyren was very much in the mix. After the spring game, where Kyren played well and Chase was limited and couldn’t do 11-on-11 because of his knee, it became apparent it was a dead heat, if not that Kyren was slightly in the lead.”
Running back Zach Bauman is closing in on the school’s all-time rushing mark. Is he the best ever to come through there?
A: “You have to speak in terms of the possibility of him being the best in school history. He’s within 100 yards of being all-time leading rusher and he hasn’t played a game of his senior year. He’s a joy to watch. Not only is he an excellent runner, he’s a productive receiver. He takes pride in protecting the quarterback. It never seizes to amaze me how good he is. You have to have that argument him and Archie Amerson.”
What are the realistic expectations for this team after going 8-3 last year, missing the playoffs and returning 18 starters?
A: “The team, I think rightfully so, believes they can be a playoff team and can compete in that tournament. They went 8-3 last year and did not play well against Arizona State, but then they rattled off eight straight wins. The schedule is different and certainly more difficult. They don’t play a Division II team; they play a noncon game against a conference team in UC-Davis and then they have the Big Sky schedule, which is incredibly tough. There are five or six teams in Big Sky that are legitimate contenders for title. Most Top 25 polls have five Big Sky teams in there.”
Who is one under-the-radar player to watch tomorrow night?
A: “Receiver Nick Cole. He’s an Oregon transfer and is a kid that I believe can have a great year. He’s been slowed down by injury in the past. I’m really looking for a breakout season. I would add that R.J. Rickert is an outstanding tight end that can do a lot of things.”