BOISE — Quarterback Joe Southwick was back on the Boise State sideline Saturday night, his first appearance since breaking his right ankle on the Broncos first play against Nevada on Oct. 19.
Southwick, who was not in uniform, threw passes in pregame warm-ups. Wearing jeans and a headset, he stalked the sideline when the Broncos were on offense. Southwick still had a noticeable limp.
But his presence along with the continued solid play from current starting quarterback Grant Hedrick sets up an intriguing story line as the Broncos chase an appearance in the first-ever Mountain West championship game.
Stick with Hedrick, who has won three of four games as the teams primary quarterback after the Broncos throttling of Wyoming on Saturday night? Or go back to Southwick, a senior who was the clear starter and whose command of the offense could be vital next week against San Diego State or Fresno State in a title game rematch?
Im not going to sit here three weeks out or whatever we are and say this is whats going to happen, Boise State coach Chris Petersen said in the lead-up to the Wyoming game. A lot happens, we know, in this game in one day, let alone weeks. Grants our guy. Were going with him. Well see when Joe gets back and go from there.
It is a good problem to have for the Broncos, who are just two wins away from a return trip to Fresno. Its also a tough one.
Hedrick is getting more and more comfortable with each week of starter practice reps, each week of game experience.
As is becoming customary, the junior had to deal with an early turnover on Saturday. In three of his four games, Hedrick has had a turnover on the first drive. Against Wyoming, it was a fumble while in the pocket.
But after that early miscue, Hedrick found his rhythm. He completed 27-of-36 passes for three touchdowns, all to Matt Miller, before being replaced by backup Nick Patti as the Broncos continually gashed Wyoming.
Southwicks re-emergence even as just a spectator is a clear sign that hes getting closer to a return to action. He has not yet been cleared to play, though Southwick has been pushing to get back on the field since the moment he broke his ankle.
Hed have been the starter last week if it was up to him, Petersen joked. ... He somehow got his M.D. here in the last two weeks. Hes a competitor and he wants to be out there, but hes making great progress. Itll be interesting to see when hes full speed. If he is, at all.
Petersen has experience with this exact situation. He was offensive coordinator when starting quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie broke his ankle in 2002 and replacement B.J. Rhode excelled as the starter. Dinwiddie entered his first game back in the second quarter and was the starter from there out.
When Ryan came back, he wasnt 100 percent. Thats why its a gray area. Thats why its hard to sit here and say anything, Petersen said. We just dont want to put (Southwick) in harms way at all. Its one thing to stand in the pocket. Its another thing to have to run for your life to get out of there, which will happen. All of those things will be taken into consideration.
Southwick is pushing to play in his final games after earning the starting job at the beginning of the season. Hedrick is getting more comfortable and is the healthier of the choices. The team is moving toward its goal and cant afford to pick the wrong QB.
All of which leaves Petersen maybe this week, maybe next, maybe the next with a tough call to make.
Brian Murphy: 377-6444; Twitter: @MurphsTurph