There may be some instances at Fitton Field this fall where fans of the Crusaders may say to themselves, "Dom woulda made that throw." Or, "Number 9 coulda eluded that linebacker." Or, "Randolph would have recognized that blitz coming." 41 total touchdowns, 4,256 total yards, and a Patriot League Championship cannot be duplicated. Well, the two large numbers won't be. But another Patriot League Championship? Well, that absolutely can be achieved. Many of the so-called Patriot League football experts and others in the blogosphere have claimed that upon the graduation of Holy Cross' one-trick pony in Dominic Randolph, the Crusaders' days as Patriot League King will soon end. Sure, the most important piece to the Holy Cross football puzzle has left, but there are about 100 other pieces that have something to prove. Now, we look at the contenders who will vie for the job under center (actually, more like 5 yards standing behind center for the Holy Cross offense).
Kevin Watson and Ryan Taggart both saw action, albeit very limited, at quarterback last year. Watson, who began the year as Randolph's back-up, came on in the Sacred Heart game and scampered for a touchdown from seven yards out. This was his only play of the season, as he missed the remainder of the year with an injury. Fortunately, he was healthy during spring practice and saw many reps with the first team offense. (It is interesting to note that Watson may have four years of eligibility remaining since he missed his entire freshman year due to an injury suffered his senior year of high school. I am not an expert on how medical redshirts work, but this is my gut instinct.) Taggart took the role as the second string QB after Watson went down with his season ending injury. He saw time in the Northeastern, Dartmouth, and Fordham games, but injured his shoulder while running the ball against the Rams and his season, like Watson's, came to an abrupt end. Mark Tolzien, a junior from Rolling Meadows, IL, has not seen any snaps as a Crusader in his career, but will push Watson and Taggart for the starting job as well. In an interview with Gilmore prior to Holy Cross' first practice of summer camp, he stated that "There is definitely going to be a battle [for the quarterback position]. We have three upperclassmen that are going to be taking a lot of reps...Ryan Taggart and Kevin Watson have been getting many of the reps, but Mark Tolzien has been mixing in as well." According to Gilmore, Watson and Taggart appear to be the two front runners for the job, but don't count out Tolzien. There are always several surprises between spring practice and summer camp of players who have either significantly progressed or regressed. Mark could easily be a guy who comes into camp and impresses coaches and players alike with his play. As of now, however, it appears as if Watson and Taggart are the top two.
Watson and Taggart (pictured left) are both very capable and efficient quarterbacks; anyone who has seen them practice will tell you this. The manner in which each runs the offense and plays the position, however, is quite different. Watson is the prototypical pocket-passer. At 6-4 with a great arm and superb touch, he is able to see the field well, make a read, and deliver a catchable ball to the receiver. While he certainly can run if the play breaks down and he is flushed out of the pocket, you will not see Watson motoring around the field and picking up yards with his feet. If Watson has a weakness, it may be his legs. What is Watson's weakness, however, is Taggart's strength. Looking more like a defensive back or slot receiver, Ryan Taggart's biggest weapon may be his legs, not his arm. He does have an absolute cannon of an arm, and can throw the ball a mile, but he welcomes broken plays as he can torch a defense by catching them off guard and picking up big gains on the ground. Combining the strong suits of Watson and Taggart would make one dynamite quarterback, but, unfortunately, this isn't NCAA College Football 2011 for XBOX.
There are two main questions for Holy Cross football fans entering the 2010 season:
1) Who will be the starting quarterback come the Howard game?
2) Will the offense change now that Dominic Randolph has graduated?
During spring football practice in the spring of Randolph's freshman year, Gilmore instituted the "spread" offense as it was most conducive to the Crusaders' personnel. Pete Thamel, of The New York Times, stated in an October, 2009 article that: "Everything changed for Randolph through a marriage of good fortune and desperation. Heading into his sophomore year, Holy Cross had just one fullback and one tight end, so they switched to a no-huddle spread, lifting wrinkles from Urban Meyer’s Utah teams." Fast-forward from the spring of 2006 to the summer of 2010, and the Holy Cross offense is at a bit of a crossroads again. Do they continue with the same spread offense that has been so successful for the past four seasons, or is a more pro-style offense implemented? Is a playbook catered to the team's personnel, or does the playbook remain constant? If history is any indication with Gilmore, the playbook may slightly change. I suspect that the spread offense will remain a staple of Holy Cross football for the foreseeable future, but passing on average of nearly 41 times a game may not. Furthermore, Randolph was directly involved in about 80% of the offensive plays. I expect to see whomever is the quarterback this year to be handing the ball off to Matt Bellomo and Eddie Houghton on a more regular basis.
One final note on the potential offensive dilemma. Many of the Randolph naysayers and doubters claimed that Dominic was simply a product of the system; he was not as good as his numbers may suggest. If this is the case, then why change the system? To this end, the doubters are right to an extent. If Dom played in a pro-style offense, or a running-based offense, he certainly does not put up the borderline fictitious numbers that he did throughout his career. Holy Cross' spread offense enables an intelligent quarterback to distribute the ball to a number of receivers. Randolph just happened to have NFL talent to go along with the intelligence. While Watson, Taggart, or whomever is the starting quarterback for the 2010 campaign may not have Randolph's talents, this year's quarterback will have been practicing the spread offense for their entire career; it is all they know as a collegiate quarterback. Suffice to say, while there may be more rushing yards and less passing yards for the Crusader offense, I expect that Holy Cross still runs the spread regardless of who is taking the snaps.
An early season storyline may be the uneasiness and challenges that Holy Cross football faces as number nine is not dropping back into the pocket. These stories are absolutely warranted as Dominic Randolph was such a major part of Crusader football for the past four seasons. This team will definitely experience growing pains with new faces taking over for older ones, but one can safely assume that these pains are being fought through and worked out during camp right now. By the time the season opener rolls around on September 4th against Howard, the resounding feelings amongst the 2010 Crusaders will be how successful they will be, not dwelling on past successes and accomplishments. Dominic Randolph's name is synonymous with success, and the 2010 starting quarterback will certainly always have a player in the back of his mind to emulate.