Chris Ault doesn’t want Tyler Lantrip to try to be Colin Kaepernick.
The Nevada Wolf Pack head coach also doesn’t want his senior quarterback to be Chris Vargas, Eric Beavers or even Marshall Sperbeck, Larry Worman, Jim Zaccheo or, yes, even Chris Ault.
Ault merely wants Tyler Lantrip to be Tyler Lantrip. And, by the way, he better do it starting Saturday at Texas Tech or else Cody Fajardo is going to get a chance to be Cody Fajardo.
“Tyler’s forte is throwing the ball,” Ault said this week. “He’s a good thrower. That is his upside. That’s where he has to get it done and, right now, he’s not getting it done.”
For the record, Lantrip’s honeymoon as the Pack starting quarterback lasted all of two games. The soon-to-be 23-year-old (on Sept. 28) is officially on the Wolf Pack quarterback hot seat.
Mr. Lantrip, welcome to the world of Jeff Ardito, Fred Gatlin, Joe Pizzo, Jeff Rowe and just about every other quarterback who has had the pleasure of trying to make Mr. Ault happy.
“If he’s going to be the guy he has to throw the ball better,” said Ault of Lantrip.
Patience, thy name is not Chris Ault, when it comes to the position of quarterback for the University of Nevada.
“This offense is too good of an offense to do what we’re doing right now,” Ault said. “And it all starts with the quarterback.”
Thank you, Mr. Kaepernick, for elevating the pistol’s quarterback expectations to unreachable heights.
“We’re not asking him to throw it 50 times a game,” Ault said. “And he doesn’t have to run it like Kap. He can get you five yards (on the ground). That’s good enough. And that’s all we’re asking. We just have to eliminate the mistakes.”
Lantrip’s numbers haven’t been Kaepernick-like but they also haven’t been awful. He’s completed 32-of-56 passes for 331 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions in two games this season. He was 11-of-21 for 112 yards with two picks in a 17-14 win at San Jose State last Saturday.
But Ault also sees 74 minutes of possession time over two games and just five touchdowns on the scoreboard. Kaepernick had his share of 11-of-21 for 112 yard games. And he also had a few two-interception games. But, more often than not, he’d also have two or three 40 and 50-yard touchdown runs in those same games to make up for it.
That’s not Lantrip. Come to think of it, that wasn’t any Wolf Pack quarterback before Kaepernick either. That’s why those 11-of-21 for 112 yards and two picks efforts tend to stand out a little more than they did the last four years.
“Four interceptions in two games,” Ault said, recalling the one statistic that makes him cringe the most about Lantrip’s performance so far. “We can’t have it.”
And, you can bet, he won’t have it for long.
“Cody (Fajardo) is going to get some more time, a lot more time, this week,” said Ault of his red-shirt freshman. “I should have played him last week.”
But he didn’t. Ault didn’t pull that Fajardo pistol trigger against San Jose State as Lantrip played an entire game at quarterback for the first time since he was a senior at Jesuit High in Carmichael, Calif., in the fall of 2005.
“I didn’t play well to help us out,” said Lantrip, assessing his second career start at Nevada. “As the quarterback and leader of this offense, I need to make better plays.”
Ault said he nearly lifted Lantrip in the third quarter against San Jose State. The first three Wolf Pack drives in the quarter ended in two punts and a lost fumble and, well, Ault’s patience was now driving down Highway 101 and out of town.
“That’s not Nevada Wolf Pack football like we practice out here everyday,” Lantrip said.
Lantrip never found his rhythm against the Spartans.
“We looked sloppy offensively,” Ault said. “We were stagnant. Tyler wasn’t comfortable all day.”
Ault, it turns out, showed patience with Lantrip in the third quarter against San Jose.
“You always thought he was going to catch fire but he never did,“ Ault said. “We got a short field (after a Brett Roy fumble recovery) and that looked like a good chance for him to get some rhythm. So we put him back out there. But it didn’t happen (the drive ended in a field goal).
“He actually played better against Oregon (in the 69-20 loss) than he did (against San Jose State).”
Ault’s patience with Lantrip has dried up.
“Tyler will start,” said Ault, referring to Saturday’s game at Texas Tech. “But Cody will play.”
And if he plays well the next Wolf Pack starting quarterback change could come in the spring and summer of 2015.
“I don’t want to be a two-quarterback guy,” Ault said. “If we make that change (to Fajardo as the starter), you don’t want to go back and forth on that.”
Lantrip has endured a tough and trying road to become the Pack’s starting quarterback. Back surgery wiped out his first year (as a gray shirt) at Nevada in 2006. He red-shirted in 2007 and then spent three more years watching Kaepernick become arguably the most productive quarterback (the first in history with 10,000 passing yards and 4,000 rushing yards) in NCAA history.
But if anyone understands that the title of Pack starting quarterback is a week-to-week deal, it’s Lantrip. He saw even Kaepernick, with that fancy resume, get yelled at on a weekly basis for five years. That’s just part of being a Wolf Pack starting quarterback with Ault around.
“I’ve made mistakes that I have to correct,” Lantrip said. “I just want to get better week after week.”
It is easy to forget that Lantrip hasn’t been a starting quarterback at any level since he led Jesuit in 2005. There were bound to be some growing pains as he knocked away the rust.
“We aren’t asking him to do things he can’t do,” Ault said. “All of the reads are easy. He’s just not making good throws.”
To be fair, not all of the Pack’s problems on offense in the first two games are Lantrip’s fault. The offensive line could have blocked better down near the goal line against San Jose State. Ault is now considering a switch at center (from Jeff Meads to Jordan Mudge). It would also help Lantrip if another receiver other than Rishard Matthews will finally emerge as a legitimate threat. And Ault has already changed his starting running back (from Nick Hale to Mike Ball).
“It was just his second game,” said Matthews of Lantrip. “He’s not going to be perfect right away. Tyler will continue to improve. Next week he’ll get better and the week after that he’ll be better. Last year I struggled early in the year and I got better as the year went on. He’ll do the same.”
Ault, to be sure, also has confidence in Lantrip. It was Ault, after all, who handed the keys to his pistol race car offense to the senior Lantrip. Nobody would have blamed Ault if he chose Fajardo and his four years of eligibility over Lantrip and his one final year. The last thing, after all, any coach wants to do is break in a new starting quarterback every year.
Ault, though picked Lantrip because Lantrip worked hard for five years and earned the opportunity and he knows the offense better than anyone except the head coach. That expertise is simply something Fajardo can’t offer right now.
“Tyler will always be a part of this offense, regardless of what happens,” said Ault. “His knowledge of this offense is that valuable to us.”
That knowledge is still there, Ault said, despite those four interceptions in two games.
“That hasn’t been the problem,” Ault said. “He’s making good decisions. He’s just not throwing the ball well.”
There was always a sense surrounding the quarterback position this summer that Lantrip, the senior, wasn’t necessarily Mr. Right. He was merely Mr. Right Now. He was simply the only quarterback wearing silver and blue this summer that could actually take Ault’s race car out of the garage and not immediately drive it into the nearest tree.
And that is probably still the case.
“(Fajardo) has got to become more of a student of the game,” Ault said recently. “He’s got to learn how to read offenses. You don’t get that overnight. Kap didn’t get it overnight.”
The fact that Ault mentioned Fajardo and Kaepernick in the same sentence is not an accident or coincidence. And it wasn’t the first time.
“Cody can run,” Ault also said last week. “He’s as fast as Kap. And he’s further ahead of Kap at this stage (as a red-shirt freshman) in terms of throwing the ball.”
Ault looks at Fajardo and sees a shorter Kaepernick. He looks at Lantrip and probably sees Mike Maxwell. Now, there’s nothing wrong with seeing Mike Maxwell, one of the greatest and most underappreciated quarterbacks in Pack history. But it’s not 1995 anymore. And the Pack doesn’t run the same offense it ran in 1995.
Fajardo simply has a skill set that is more suited to Ault’s pistol than Lantrip’s abilities. That is not a knock against Lantrip. The 6-foot-4 Lantrip is a drop-back, pro style quarterback masquerading as a pistol quarterback. Fajardo, well, if Dr. Ault could manufacture a pistol quarterback in his mad scientist lab he’d build Fajardo.
The first time Fajardo touched the ball in a Wolf Pack uniform he ran for 19 yards against Oregon. The second time he went for eight. His first pass was complete for 10 yards. And his third run went for seven yards and a touchdown. On his third drive against Oregon he ran for 11 and 13 yards.
It was reminiscent of the last time a red-shirt freshman saw the first extended action of his career back in October 2007.
Fajardo, though, also tossed a badly thrown ball on his final pass at Oregon that was intercepted and returned 67 yards for a touchdown.
So much for that October 2007 flashback.
That, after all, is the problem facing Ault right now. No matter how much Ault seemingly wants to pull the trigger on a quarterback change, Fajardo might simply not be ready.
“That’s it,” Ault said.
He also has to protect the development of Fajardo. You don’t want to go into your first season in the Mountain West Conference next fall with your most experienced quarterback a red-shirt sophomore who just had to endure a confidence-crushing first year.
Maybe the best thing for this season right now is some combination of Lantrip and Fajardo in each and every game, with a sprinkle and dash of Mason Magleby thrown in for spice and flavor. A combo quarterback, after all, worked back in the early 1990s with Gatlin and Vargas. Ault says he’s not a two-quarterback guy but Fajardo and Lantrip, with all of their promise and problems, might force him to think outside the box for one season.
Ault, after all, was never a red-shirt freshman quarterback kind of guy before 2007. And, look at him now, threatening to do it all over again just four years later.
“We’re still trying to find the pieces,” he said.
The key is finding them before the entire season goes to pieces.