The best-case scenario for the Wild with quarterback Phil Staback out 3-4 weeks with a knee injury is for backup Marcus Jackson to give coach Morris Lolar a difficult decision to make when Staback returns.
There will be no such decision, though. Staback’s job will be waiting for him when he returns from a sprained MCL in his right knee, even if Jackson, who will start tonight against New Mexico at Hartman Arena, gives the 0-4 Wild a spark with his dual-threat abilities.
"I’m one of those old-school coaches that injuries don’t lose your job," Lolar said. "I don’t care if we’re on a roll, we’re still going to put Phil in there and see what he can do, and maybe they’ll split time if we are on a roll and Marcus is playing well."
Staback injured his knee during last week’s 61-48 loss to Allen. Before he was hurt, he threw four touchdown passes and had Wichita ahead 27-21 in the second quarter.
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Jackson gives the Wild a diametrically opposite player behind center. Though he passed 17 times — going for 145 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions — Jackson, a former backup to Andy
Dalton at TCU, gives the Wild their most dangerous running threat.
The Wild was unable to adjust to Jackson’s style in last week’s loss, but with a week of practice to allow Jackson to learn his teammates’ tendencies and vice versa, Lolar believes Wichita should be ready.
"I tell him almost every day in practice that he’s going to make his money with his feet, not with his arm," Lolar said. "It’s up to him when he wants to take off and run. He makes his reads and if something is there, take off running. That’s one more thing that the defense has to worry about."
The challenge for Jackson — and perhaps Lolar — is to keep talented receivers Doug Pierce and Simmons involved. Simmons led the league in receptions last season and Pierce, a Friends product, has emerged as a reliable deep threat.
With several weapons in the passing game, they all could draw defensive attention away from one another. When the defense is expecting a run, for example, Jackson could target Simmons underneath or Pierce down the sidelines.
"That just frees everything up with a quarterback that can run now," Lolar said. "...You always have to be accountable for that quarterback with him running. With those two weapons on offense, you’re not going to be able to cover those two guys one-on-one.
"You’re definitely going to slide your coverage toward those guys, or a linebacker, and it’s really difficult when you’ve got a quarterback with a run."
Jackson’s ability to lead the Wild to a turnaround is helped by a less difficult schedule. The teams Wichita has played so far — Allen twice, Omaha and Sioux Falls — are a combined 9-3. Five of the next six games are against opponents without winning records.
"It’ll be a sigh of relief once we show up this weekend and we beat the crap out of New Mexico," Lolar said. "Then I’ll say, OK, we’re ready to roll."