After standing on the sidelines for 2 1/2 weeks, Paul Shoemaker was bound to be rusty. The BYU reserve quarterback hadn't played a down since he played the first half against Washington in the season opener. That was a month ago.
So it was perfectly understandable that when he was forced into action against Utah State late Saturday night with the game on the line that it would take him a while to get warmed up and settle the nerves.He took the first play off. It was a hand off. But then he got down to work. He threw a soft pass up the middle to Dustin Johnson for a 65-yard play.
Two plays later he threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Johnson.
On the next play he completed a two-point conversion pass to Ben Cahoon.
Yeah, this quarterbacking job is tough, you could hear Shoemaker thinking.
Nonchalant? You could swear after the touchdown that Shoemaker yawned as he walked to the bench, rubbing his knuckles on his chest.
Four plays, 93 yards, touchdown. No sweat.
This was a job a guy could get used to.
On his next series, with the score tied, Shoemaker calmly guided BYU 69 yards for another touchdown with 3:39 left to give the Cougars a come-from-behind 42-35 victory.
Ho-hum, another game, another save. See ya on the sidelines next week, folks.
Monday morning quarterbacks now have new material for discussion around the water cooler (and let's face it, they need it). For a month, Shoemaker had paced the sidelines, playing the part of the good sport. He tried to say the right things, even though anybody could see he was upset about the situation.
BYU coaches had said they would probably play two quarterbacks for a while this season. That lasted all of one game. The only playing Shoemaker did was in pre-game warmups.
But things can change in a hurry. For a while on Friday, it looked like Shoemaker would never play again. Kevin Feterik was playing a superb game. Never known for his mobility, he suddenly looked like Steve Young, eluding the pass rush and then throwing a left-handed pass downfield for a completion. He completed 29 of 44 passes for 345 yards and with every completion he further staked his claim to the job that once belonged to Shoemaker.
Shoemaker's total playing time consisted of 30 minutes against Washington in the season-opener. A so-so performance there opened the door for Feterik, who made the most of it. He took the Cougars to wins against nationally ranked Arizona State and SMU. And he was having a fine night against the Aggies until late in the third quarter when he sprained an ankle.
But with What's-His-Name standing on the sidelines, there was no way he was going to bench himself. Feterik limped onto the field for the next series and promptly threw an interception deep in USU territory. Feterik's mobility had clearly been curtailed by the injury and probably contributed to the interception.
BYU coaches benched him and sent Shoemaker onto the field, thank you very much. It wasn't exactly an enviable position for a new quarterback. Cougars down by five points, ball on the seven-yard line.
Four plays and 48 seconds later the Cougars scored a touchdown. They ran twice, and Shoemaker threw two dumpoff passes to Johnson and then the PAT pass, giving BYU a 35-32 lead.
Minutes later, the Aggies tied the score with a field goal, and Shoemaker took over. With the Cougars keeping to the ground game for the most part, Shoemaker took the team 69 yards in nine plays, capped by Will Snowden's game-winning two-yard touchdown run. Shoemaker himself ran for 18 yards on one play.
Shoemaker still hasn't logged much playing time. He played all of 12 minutes and 21 seconds on Friday and made the most of it. He completed three of four passes for 91 yards and one touchdown and was at the controls when the Cougars scored their other touchdown.
It wasn't supposed to be this easy. But for a guy who never lost a single game in three years of high school play, maybe it is simply a habit. And old habits die hard - even if they have to sit idle on the sideline a few weeks.