BOULDER - In an attempt to resuscitate its offense, Colorado will start a new quarterback - either Nick Hirschman or Connor Wood - Saturday at Arizona.
Coach Jon Embree announced on Tuesday that transfer Jordan Webb, the starter in this season's first nine games, will take a backseat in practice this week while Hirschman and Wood - both sophomores - compete to open against the Wildcats.
"Jordan has won the competition every week; we just want to get a different look at some guys," Embree said, adding a second part of the equation is to "let Jordan sit back and kind of watch some things and see if that'll help him some."
Webb agreed that a change might help spark the offense and that watching what unfolds might help him. "I've been in that position before (at Kansas) with an injury whenever I had to sit back and it really helps, seeing things from a new perspective," he said. "I plan on trying to get better this week."
Through nine games, Webb was last in the Pac-12 Conference in passing efficiency (106.9 rating), No. 12 in total offense (142.8 yards a game) and No. 11 in passing yards per game (155.7). A change at the position was contemplated last week, but CU quarterbacks coach Rip Scherer said Webb once again outperformed Hirschman in practice.
"He kept fighting back, he was practicing hard," Scherer said of Webb.
So Webb remained the starter last weekend against Stanford. However, during that game, Scherer said he "just sensed that (Webb) was losing his edge . . . I felt it more during this last game."
Webb conceded that his confidence had taken a hit recently. "A little bit, but I have a pretty short memory," he said. "That's just always how I've been. I think the next game I play I'm the type that thinks I'm going to throw for 400 (yards) and five touchdowns. That's just my mindset. I think that's what you have to be as a quarterback."
The decision on whether to start Hirschman or Wood will be made at week's end, although Embree said if either player separates himself from the other as early as Tuesday or Wednesday, it would be reflected in the number of "reps" with the No. 1 offense for the remainder of the week.
That was the case last week when Hirschman competed with Webb for the starting spot. Embree said he and his offensive staff knew after last Tuesday's practice that Webb would open against the Cardinal.
But Scherer said after this week's Tuesday's work there had been no such separation between Wood and Hirschman: "But I haven't seen the tape yet. Both did some really good things, but there were some mistakes that have to get fixed."
As it turned out last weekend, all three QBs played in the 48-0 loss and were equally ineffective as the Buffs dropped to 1-8 overall and 1-5 in the Pac-12. In addition to being shut out at home for the first time since the mid-1980s, CU was held to 76 yards in total offense (minus-21 rushing). The three QBs combined to complete 12-of-23 passes for 97 yards, with Webb throwing a first-quarter pick six. Their individual stats: Webb - four-of-10, 19 yards; Hirschman - four-of-six, 12 yards; Wood - four-of-seven, 66 yards.
Webb wasn't surprised by the turn toward Wood or Hirschman. "That's the name of the game," he said. "Whenever you're not producing your job is going to be on the line, and obviously I wasn't (producing). Now it's time for me to help those guys get ready for this week."
This week's different approach at identifying a starter was not done with an eye toward the future, said Embree: "No, we're trying to win now. It doesn't have anything to do with that." He also said there was never any thought given to pulling freshman Shane Dillon's redshirt: "I didn't even think about that . . . it wouldn't be fair."
Webb, who has started all nine games this season but has not finished the last two, won the job in August despite having been on campus less than two months and having minimal exposure to CU's playbook. Nonetheless, he clearly was the most efficient of the threesome in August and subsequently was named the starter for the opener.
He showed flashes of proficiency, particularly in the Buffs' lone win, directing a fourth-quarter comeback (35-34) in the Pac-12 opener at Washington State. But much of his efficiency seemed to stay on the practice field, and Embree noted, "There are a lot of different issues that arise, whether it's receivers in their routes, whether it's maybe something up front with the line.
"Part of it is we have to help him make plays. He can be streaky in that if he gets a couple of things going early he can build off of that. Last week, obviously those things didn't happen."
Embree doesn't adhere to the "gamer" theory that some players who are routinely subpar in practice perform better in games: "I don't believe that in my heart," he said. "I believe all players, you practice like you play. I don't feel like all of a sudden because there's people in the stands and it's a different colored uniform across from you, you become Peyton Manning. It's something in how you prepare and what you do in practice, I believe, is how you'll do on Saturday. But there's always exceptions."
At 6-3, 225 and 6-4, 230, respectively, Wood and Hirschman have prototypical QB size. Wood, who has never started a college game, is viewed as the more mobile of the two. "He's a pretty good runner," said CU defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe, and that attribute could work in Wood's favor.
Said Embree: "You don't want a guy back there who can't move - unless his last name is Roethlisberger . . . it's important because we want to move the pocket and do some other things to get them on the edge. Connor definitely moves a lot better than I think people would assume because they see his size."
However scant, Hirschman might have experience on his side. He made his first college start last season at Arizona State but was ineffective. Yet he persevered and has overcome injuries to both feet to work himself back into the picture.
"Jordan's played in a lot of games and seen a lot of things that Connor and I haven't gotten a chance to see," Hirschman said. "But at this point in my football career I feel like I've played enough to the point where most of the defenses I've seen are about it - I hope."
He characterized his performance in last week's competition against Webb as "good" and said he knew by Wednesday that he would play against Stanford if he didn't start. But he added he needs to "improve on decision making - and that just comes over time of being a quarterback, seeing the reps."
Competing against a player who hasn't been a nine-game starter this season would not make a difference, Hirschman said: "No, I don't think it changes how I look at the competition. It doesn't really matter who it is; it's more about yourself than the other guy anyway. It's more focusing on myself and what I can do to improve."
Wood, meanwhile, finds himself in an intriguing position - one of knowing a good week of November practice will earn his first college start. He relishes the opportunity.
"I'm excited," he said. "I'm looking ahead for an opportunity to get in the game and make something happen and generate some excitement for our offense."
He believes he can earn the job by being consistent. "That's my main goal with my passes, my run checks and all the things that are my responsibility," he said. "Not be perfect, but be consistent . . . I'm on the verge; every day I'm getting better at understanding our game plan for each week."
The lack of consistency at the QB position is mirrored in CU's offensive stats. The Buffs are last in the Pac-12 in scoring (16.1 points a game), total offense (293.0 yards) and passing offense (193.3 yards). They are 11th in rushing offense (99.7 yards).
Scherer agreed that Wood's and Hirschman's inconsistency in practice "is the reason we haven't made the change sooner . . . hopefully by splitting the reps between the two of them, one will rise and jump to the forefront."
He said neither player has an edge at this point: "I think they're both different. Nick is a blue collar, big, strong, tough guy - maybe not as smooth as Connor. (Wood) is a little smoother athletically. They both bring different things to the table."
While Embree would not rule out using Webb at Arizona, he said the QB who finishes second in this week's competition would be Saturday's backup. Scherer added if that if this week's competition "is a dead heat through the course of the week, then maybe both of them (Wood, Hirschman) will play."
Senior tight end Nick Kasa said whoever winds up as Saturday's starting QB simply needs to help the offense find more rhythm: "We'll get eight yards, then get stopped and go three and out. That kills a drive and sometimes the next drive, just thinking about it. We need to get in a rhythm and have confidence."
The lack of rhythm is obvious to Hirschman. "Every now and then we'll see glimpses of us moving the ball, being on time and having good flow," he said. "Then there are times when it's obviously not very evident. That's a key to our success; we need to be on the same page with each other."
BUFF BITS: The Buffs' current woes shouldn't cause any player defections, Embree said, adding he believes "the foundation is solid . . . I'm as disappointed as everyone else about where we are from a record standpoint. I knew when I took this job it was going to be a process. I didn't think it would be like this, but I knew it was going to be a building process just because of the nature of where the roster was." He said this should be the last year of recruiting a number of players to restock one position - such as the secondary and defensive line in the last cycle. "We can start recruiting a little bit more normal," he said . . . . There has been no update on defensive back Parker Orms' status for either the remainder of this season or the future. In concussion cases, there are procedures players must go through before being cleared to return. Embree said he didn't know where Orms was in those procedures.