LARAMIE, Wyo. Winter arrived on the high plains last week, a light snow still blanketed most of the ground Saturday, and its presence served as a reminder that as this football season enters its defining stretch teams and players have changed, too.
Boise State is not the same team it was on that hot night in East Lansing, Mich., at the end of August. And its quarterback is not the same player as that first-time starter who led the Broncos onto the field that evening, either.
As he grows into his role as the starting quarterback, as he escapes a tiny bit from the enormous shadow still cast by Kellen Moore, Boise State junior quarterback Joe Southwick is being himself more and more. Even when it means a 30-yard conversation toward the end of a 31-point rout.
In the fourth quarter of the Broncos blowout victory against Wyoming, there was Southwick career record: 7-1 engaged in an animated sideline dialogue with coach Chris Petersen and quarterbacks coach Jonathan Smith.
Joes always animated and Joe always has a lot to say about everything, said Petersen, who like Southwick couldnt remember (or didnt care to disclose) the particulars of the talk. We may have squashed Joe too much early on and just get him to stop talking and just play. And thats not really Joe. So if he needs to talk and say this and say that and the other thing, well hear him. Then you need to hear us back, this is what were going to do.
Southwick is not Moore, a fact that some Boise State fans just cant seem to accept. He wont be a four-year starter. He wont end his career as the winningest quarterback in college history. He wont play quarterback with a pulse rate that rarely rises above comatose.
He just may lead the Broncos to the same number or more of Bowl Championship Series games as the incomparable Moore did.
He had to replace the winningest college quarterback in history. Its very big shoes to fill. Hes done a very good job of it so far, receiver Matt Miller said. You cant ask a kid to come in and do the exact same thing Kellen did.
Southwick is winning and leading, taking a solid run game, stellar defense and sneaky good special teams and creating a winner. His overall numbers, while not gaudy, are productive.
He has completed 65.6 percent of his passes including better than 70 percent in the past two games for 1,678 yards. His touchdown-to-interception ratio (9-6) leaves something to be desired. The Broncos have turned to the run game near the end zone, perhaps as a nod to Southwicks struggle, but also in a return to their pre-Moore days.
The thought that another quarterback on the roster would have the Broncos with a better record or even the same one strikes me as preposterous. Southwick has more than justified his selection as starting quarterback.
Theres just no substitute for game experience. Hes had a lot of reps in our system as a practice player and as mop-up duty. Thats just so different than when moneys on the line, said Petersen, who was followed by Southwick for about 30 yards during one fourth-quarter conversation. He really knows what were trying to get done. I think hes seeing things better. Hes gaining more confidence as he continues to complete passes and win games.
He is not immune from mistakes. No quarterback, not even that one from Prosser, Wash., is immune to interceptions.
Southwick threw his sixth interception of the season against Wyoming. It came on a forced throw down the middle of the field near the Wyoming goal line. Five of the interceptions have come inside the opponents 5 making them highly memorable and costly mistakes.
Twitter comedians call him SouthPick. A vocal minority of fans still wants to see true freshman Nick Patti under center. Some of the craziest would be willing to forego a possible 11-1 season and Mountain West championship for a season of quarterback development.
Its interesting what our fans do sometimes. What they do is what they want to do, said Southwick, who has had to deal with hecklers at the grocery store and probably plenty more than he was willing to discuss. For the majority, its been overwhelmingly positive. Theres a lot of great fans out there. But again, Ive just got to show up and work and care about my teammates and not worry about the outside world.
As the days grow shorter and the temperatures drop, that work and being himself has the Broncos and their quarterback are positioned for a conference title and another BCS run. A great place for any quarterback to be.