Attrition high for Pac-10 quarterbacks
Washington's Jake Locker will miss at least one game with broken ribs. Arizona's Nick Foles sat out two with a sprained knee. Kevin Prince of UCLA and Cal's Kevin Riley are done for the year.
What was supposed to be the year of the quarterback in the Pac-10 has turned into the battle of the backups.
Four teams have lost their quarterbacks for at least one game due to injuries, leaving their fate in the hands of reserves who often lack experience and the reps in practice to succeed.
''Any injury can be very hard on a team, that's our life, but at that position it can be very disruptive,'' Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. ''It's always hard to get the backup quarterback enough turns and then bang, they're in the game and it's tough to expect him to do what the other guy has been doing. You have to somewhat be ready for it.''
It's been a rough few weeks for the conference's quarterbacks.
Foles, the nation's most accurate passer the first six weeks, was injured Oct. 16 when a Washington State player rolled into his right leg. The junior sat out the next two games, though coach Mike Stoops declared him 100 percent healthy this week, which means he'll likely be under center when the 13th-ranked Wildcats travel to No. 10 Stanford.
Foles threw for 415 yards in a duel with Stanford's Andrew Luck (423 yards) in Arizona's 43-38 win last season, but the Wildcats have a good backup plan, so to speak, if he isn't ready to go in the rematch.
Junior Matt Scott, the starter the first three games of 2009 before being replaced by Foles, has been stellar since getting the call again. More of a threat with his legs, he's been just as accurate with his arm, too, completing 42 of 58 passes for 552 yards and three touchdowns in a pair of wins.
Scott has led Arizona's offense to more than 500 total yards each of the past two games, including last Saturday's 29-21 road win over UCLA.
''He missed some throws in the fourth quarter, but I liked the way he scrambled and made plays,'' Stoops said. ''He scrambled to throw, he scrambled to run and he just made it look easy. It wasn't forced in any way. He just kind of made plays with his instincts.''
Some of the other quarterback-depleted teams don't have the same fortune.
Locker's injury, one he'd been battling a few weeks before it worsened against Stanford last week, means Washington will turn to redshirt freshman Keith Price on Saturday against Oregon. He's been getting more practice time over the past month while Locker has nursed his injury, but making your first start against the top-ranked team on the road isn't the most ideal situation.
Cal and UCLA will be run by backups much longer.
Riley's season-ending left knee injury last week against Oregon State puts the ball in the hands of redshirt junior Brock Mansion, who was, until recently, the third quarterback behind Riley and sophomore Beau Sweeney.
Mansion hasn't started since high school and had completed seven career passes before this season, but at least his first game will be against last-place Washington State instead of national title-contending Oregon.
''We know his capabilities, we know the quarterback he can be and I think he's going to step up to the plate and deliver for us,'' Cal running back Shane Vereen said. ''(Riley) has always been a tough player for us and to see him go down was kind of tough. But at the same time we have to rally behind Brock. I think he'll be able to cut it loose. We'll be fine.''
UCLA has gone through its share of quarterback injuries under coach Rick Neuheisel, including a same-day carting off of Ben Olson and Pat Cowan during spring practice in 2008.
Prince's season-ending knee surgery two weeks ago was difficult, but at least his replacement has plenty of game-day experience.
Richard Brehaut made first start against Washington State when Prince hurt his knee during UCLA's upset win over Texas, then was under center for a blowout loss to Oregon. Brehaut started again last week against No. 13 Arizona, throwing for a career-best 228 yards and two touchdowns, but still seemed like he was trying to get the hang of things after the loss.
''In the debriefing, when you talk to him after the game, you realize there's a lot of things still to learn,'' Neuheisel said.
Coaches across the conference are realizing the same thing.