Asked Tuesday about the possibility of using both Patrick Towles and Drew Barker in games at quarterback this fall, new Kentucky offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson did not sound enthusiastic but didn't totally rule it out.
"I've never really done that, to be completely honest with you," Dawson said of playing two quarterbacks. "But I'm not saying — I'll never say never with anything, really."
One of the oldest axioms in football is that a team with two quarterbacks really has no quarterback. There is substantial merit in that.
Yet one need only look back to football history in the state of Kentucky to see there is a way to use two QBs successfully that could apply to Kentucky's current situation. The Cats have an incumbent starter in Towles, a redshirt junior, and a redshirt freshman in Barker who is thought to have abundant promise.
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You might call the way to play multiple QBs "The Schnellenberger Model."
In 1990, Howard Schnellenberger's Louisville Cardinals had an incumbent starter, Browning Nagle, and a highly touted freshman, Jeff Brohm (now the head coach at Western Kentucky University). After Nagle retained the starter's mantle, Schnellenberger made the decision that he would give Brohm the third Louisville offensive series at quarterback in every contest regardless of the game situation.
Schnellenberger, now 81, said Friday the key to making such a scenario work "is you have to have a clear starter and it has to be clear to the team that it will be on the starter to win or lose the game. Whatever the backup does on his series, good or bad, it has to be clear that the starter goes back in the game after that series."
Even in a confined role, the advantage for the backup QB in getting playing time in the first half of every game "is he is getting experience under win-or-lose game pressure," Schnellenberger said.
For the team, the short-term advantage is that should the starter get injured, then the backup QB will have game experience. For a program, the long-term benefit is it means that when the starting QB graduates, the heir apparent will have had game repetitions more meaningful than mop-up duty.
In that 1990 season at Louisville, Nagle attempted 263 passes and threw for 2,150 yards and 16 touchdowns. Brohm attempted 55 passes and threw for 482 yards and four TDs. Using both worked out fairly well — Louisville went 10-1-1 and throttled Alabama 34-7 in the Fiesta Bowl.
"We were playing Alabama and Browning (Nagle) was beating the hell out of them," Schnellenberger said. "But when it was time for Jeff Brohm to go in the game, we still put him in."
In 2004, Jeff Brohm was on Bobby Petrino's Louisville coaching staff when a different U of L brain trust used the same formula with incumbent starter Stefan LeFors and another promising freshman, Brian Brohm (Jeff's younger brother).
LeFors started, but Brian Brohm got a designated series in the first half of every game. LeFors attempted 257 passes and threw for 2,596 yards and 20 touchdowns. Brohm attempted 98 passes and threw for 819 yards and six TDs. That, too, worked out — the Cardinals finished 11-1 and beat Boise State 44-40 in a Liberty Bowl matchup of top 10 teams.
"Any good idea has an imitator," Schnellenberger said.
Should Kentucky imitate "The Schnellenberger Model" with Towles and Barker in 2015?
If, as most expect, Towles reclaims his starting job, there would be benefit to getting Barker one series a week of meaningful game experience. Presently, those two are the only two healthy scholarship QBs on the UK roster. Were Towles to be injured at any point in 2015, Kentucky would be glad that Barker had been under fire before in games.
(Should Barker win the starting job, the case could be made that it would be wise to keep Towles sharp by giving him one series each game, too. The team dynamics of a former starter logging a series instead of the younger QB who had beaten him out are more complicated, however.)
On the down side, Kentucky's margin of error in SEC games tends to be minute so not using your best quarterback every snap carries risk.
Still, if Towles wins the starting job but the UK coaches see Barker as a QB ready to play winning football in the SEC, too, there is a plan that has shown you can use a second QB in a limited role without disrupting your team.
Call it "The Schnellenberger Model."