Brian Murphy: A moment to savor for underappreciated Southwick

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comDecember 1, 2013 

The loudest cheers during Boise State’s pre-game senior introductions were saved for wide receiver Kirby Moore. The second biggest were, arguably, for former Broncos quarterback Kellen Moore, who was introduced as part of his younger brother’s group.

Even before his final game on the blue, Boise State senior quarterback Joe Southwick — the player tasked with filling the biggest shoes in school history when he replaced Kellen — was upstaged by the Broncos’ greatest quarterback.

Such was life for Southwick as the Broncos’ starter.

In another era, he’d be recognized as one of the best quarterbacks in school history. He ranks in the top 10 at Boise State in pass attempts, completions, passing yards, completion percentage, passing touchdowns, total offense, interception ratio, pass efficiency, 200-yard passing games and 300-yard passing games.

But Moore sits atop each category. Plus, he’s No. 1 in college football in the most important stat of all for quarterbacks — wins.

Southwick walked into a no-win situation. Nothing he did would be enough to replace Moore in the hearts of Bronco Nation. It may take a decade (or more) before there is even space in those hearts for another QB.

Southwick at least got a great moment Saturday night. In his first action since breaking his right ankle on the first play of the game against Nevada on Oct. 19, Southwick led the Broncos on a three-play touchdown drive to open the game against New Mexico.

He completed a short pass to running back Jay Ajayi on the second play — and Ajayi took it 64 yards to the New Mexico 1. Southwick connected with receiver Matt Miller on the next play for his 33rd career touchdown pass.

Then he shared a big hug with fellow senior Gabe Linehan on the sideline.

And with that, Southwick’s night — and career on the blue — was done.

“That was awesome,” coach Chris Petersen said. “Two-for-two and a touchdown. No better way to go out on the last day on the blue really.”

This certainly wasn’t how Southwick imagined his senior season, missing all but two drives of the final six regular-season games with that broken ankle.

From the moment he was named the starting quarterback before his junior season, some fans longed for another. Some even let Southwick know — personally.

Southwick and the Broncos started slowly, with Boise State dropping its opener against Michigan State in his first start, but rebounded for an 11-2 season and a share of the Mountain West title. His strong finish seemed to portend good things for 2013.

When Grant Hedrick stepped in to replace Southwick, fans quickly jumped on board with the newcomer — despite similar numbers across the board and more bouts of inconsistency.

Southwick hasn’t been perfect, but he’s been better than he’s been given credit for. The Broncos are 17-4 with Southwick as the starting quarterback.

It’s revisionist history, but with a healthy Southwick, don’t the Broncos defeat San Diego State (instead of losing in overtime) and earn a spot in the Mountain West championship game?

With at least three more weeks to recover, he likely will start the bowl game, wherever Boise State winds up.

“For that guy that’s been hurt for so long to come back on senior night and to have a drive like that, and for me to be a part of it, it’s just great,” Ajayi said. “I’m glad I was able to send Joe off the blue the right way.”

No matter where his career ends, Southwick will always have Saturday night. His final game action on the blue won’t be when a Nevada defender rolled him up and he sprinted on crutches to get X-rays. It’ll instead be one more start, one more drive and one more touchdown pass.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444

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