MANHATTAN — Kansas State coach Bill Snyder is talking about a football dilemma he has never encountered. For a man who has been around the game as long as he has, this is rare.
The issue at hand revolves around quarterbacks. Like most coaches, he prefers to use one. This season, the Wildcats are using two with no signs of stopping.
The situation is so unique that Snyder is leaning forward in his chair at his weekly news conference, wondering if he has ever been this confident in a pair of quarterbacks before. His eventual answer: no.
In his 22nd season with the Wildcats, Snyder is experiencing something new.
“If you look back over the years, you probably don’t see it like this,” Snyder says. “... This would be the first that I have as good a feeling about two of them as I recall.”
That alone makes K-State’s two-quarterback system interesting. Yet, the intrigue goes much deeper.
If used correctly, Waters and Sams complement each other. Waters, a junior transfer from Iowa Western Community College, is a quality passer. He has completed nearly 72 percent of his throws for 558 yards and two touchdowns in two games. His strong arm allows him to spread the field and open up running lanes.
Sams, a sophomore, is an electric runner. He has come in for Waters in both of K-State’s games and reeled off 80 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries. He also completed a 27-yard pass last week. He is instant offense.
But there is a reason someone coined the phrase, “Two quarterbacks equals no quarterbacks.” One can get in the way of the other, preventing both from establishing a bond with their receivers. Often times, the team suffers.
K-State is off to a 1-1 start that includes a surprising loss to North Dakota State, but the offense has benefited from Waters and Sams. They seem to be capable of more as a duo than separate solo acts. It’s symbiosis at work.
“We keep the defense off balance,” Sams said. “You really don’t know what to expect ... I feel like we can be very dangerous.”
Exactly how rare is it for K-State to use two quarterbacks under Snyder?
So rare that radio analyst and former K-State quarterback Stan Weber struggles to recall more than two situations that resemble the current one.
Weber points to 2001 as the closest example. That year, athletic Ell Roberson shared the field with pocket-passer Marc Dunn. They came in and out of the huddle and put up similar stats, but that was different. Snyder played them both because he was exploring all options for a long-term starter. Neither quarterback threw for 1,000 yards that season, and K-State went 6-6.
Snyder also went back and forth between Grant Gregory and Carson Coffman in 2009, Allan Evridge and Allen Webb in 2005 and Dylan Meier and Webb in 2004. K-State missed bowl games in all three seasons.
The other example Weber recalls came in 1991, when Snyder yanked Paul Watson from a game against Kansas in favor of Jason Smargiasso, only to put Watson back in for the fourth quarter. Watson responded by completing 10 of his final 15 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown in a come-from-behind win that marked Snyder’s first victory over the Jayhawks. But that was just one game.
Snyder has always been willing to play the hot hand, once pulling Michael Bishop from a game against Texas Tech in favor of Jonathan Beasley. What he has never done is rotate quarterbacks when they both play well — until now.
“He has used two quarterbacks before, just not because of their skills being divergent or complementary,” Weber said. “He’s never had anything like this before with two quarterbacks.”
The two-quarterback system has become a hot topic among fans and media.
"The bottom line of it is Jake is a good, young quarterback, and Daniel is a good quarterback," Snyder said. "You've got two guys that deserve and need to be on the field and we need to continue to find and cultivate ways to utilize both of them. I think it's to our advantage to be able to do so as long as we do it the right way. That's not the easiest task, but both of them are good enough to be on the field."
Putting ego aside
Weber was never asked to split time when he played quarterback at K-State in the 1980s. Like most quarterbacks, he wanted to take every snap.
“It would have been hard to split time with another quarterback. I don’t think I’m wired that way,” Weber said. “Most quarterbacks will say, ‘If I’m your guy, watch out. Watch what I can do. Let me take the responsibility and the pressure and I will reward you with results.’ When you tell them, ‘Well, your contribution is appreciated, but we have other guys who can do your job just as well,’ that’s tough for a quarterback to hear.
“It’s no problem for running backs and wide receivers to rotate in and out, but quarterbacks don’t usually handle it as well. It affects your ego too much.”
Waters and Sams appear to be exceptions.
Before and after he was named K-State’s starter, Waters said he would welcome the opportunity to split snaps with Sams.
“It’s all about winning and it’s all about the team,” Waters said. “When you have that mindset it is easy to handle. When I’m out there I’m the guy and it’s my team. When he is out there it’s his team and he is the guy. We both want what is best for the team, so that is where we are headed.”
Sams is striving to become the starter himself, but he realizes the upside that comes with sharing the job.
“Me and Jake are behind each other no matter who is under center,” Sams said. “That feels good. Even if I’m coming in to take him out he’s still up tempo, saying ‘All right, Daniel, let’s go, let’s keep it going.’ That feels good. It’s the same way whenever I’m coming off and he is coming in.”
That camaraderie will need to continue for the two-quarterback system to work long-term.
Other programs have succeeded with it in the past, but there is no how-to manual for this situation. Even Snyder is experiencing it for the first time.