Analysis: Quarterback conundrum

How Queen’s two preeminent pivots stack up

Licandro (#12) and Keenan (#4) at a glance.
Jeff Chan

Offensive Coordinator Tom Flaxman and Head Coach Steve Snyder have a great problem. A problem, surely, but as good as they come.

They have an embarrassment of riches at the quarterback position. All season long, they’ve been juggling between two Ottawa natives: the sophomore James Keenan and the rookie Ryan Licandro.

In what some figured was going to be a fallow year—what with the culture reset imposed by a new head coach after Pat Sheahan’s long reign, and the graduation of several key players—having two young and supremely talented quarterbacks is certainly better than having none.

The question has become, who do they stick with?

Keenan got the nod early and often in the season, starting the team’s first four games to mixed results. He looked comfortable leading the offence, and made some fantastic throws, but ultimately, only led Queen’s to one win.

Beyond his maturity under centre, Keenan’s greatest asset might be his mobility—he’s a constant threat to scramble and his creative running is difficult to plan for. 

Against teams not named Western, Keenan has averaged 9.1 yards per carry. He’s as elusive as they come, and his ability to keep his eyes upfield and scanning for open receivers while casually dodging defenders is uncanny.

Licandro saw limited minutes in losses to Carleton and Western, and played half a game against Ottawa, but he made consistently good reads in the short looks he got. 

He got his first start of the season against the University of Toronto and threw for 280 yards and two touchdowns in a terrific upset of the nationally-ranked Varsity Blues.

The Queen’s coaching staff decided to ride the hot hand and start Licandro again against Wilfrid Laurier this past weekend, but the Hawks’ strong defence caused Queen’s fits in a bad loss.

There doesn’t seem to be anything resembling a consensus on who will start in two weeks against Guelph. The Gryphons have a formidable pass rush—they lead the OUA in sacks, and they’re second for interceptions.

That could play into the hands of the 6’2”, 190-pound Keenan, whose slipperiness can turn a broken play into a big gain.

Licandro, on the other hand, is your prototypical pocket passer. He’s 6’4” and 216 pounds with a big arm, and he looks comfortable making passes amidst the chaos of a blitz. 

Each quarterback has had good, bad, and middling performances. Licandro has averaged 1.7 yards more per completion than Keenan, and he’s thrown for one extra touchdown, but he’s also registered an extra interception. Licandro threw a pick-six, and Keenan had a pick returned to his own nine-yard line.

That is to say, although their styles are very different, there really isn’t much separating them statistically. They’re two young quarterbacks navigating the growing pains of playing U SPORTS-calibre football.

But what is perhaps more telling than their on-field performances is that Licandro and Keenan have both demonstrated innate leadership qualities and created strong rapports with their teammates. That they have great intangibles in spades bodes very well for a young Gaels team. 

Both were highly sought-after recruits who came to Queen’s with accolades and expectations. Regardless of whether one of them starts indefinitely or they maintain the platoon system they’ve been utilizing thus far, Queen’s is in good hands for years to come.

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