Two heads are better than one

Dual-QB system challenges opposing defences

Completions from Keenan's win against Windsor (yellow) and Licandro's against the University of Toronto (red). "X" represents the line of scrimmage.

Sitting with a record of 2-4, the Gaels are admirers when looking at the playoff picture. Regardless of their losing record, the team has been incredibly interesting to watch in one specific aspect: their quarterback situation.

The Gaels are the only team in the OUA who have not settled on a starting quarterback. Through the first three games of the season, James Keenan and Ryan Licandro split shifts serving under centre, although Keenan did take 71 per cent of quarterback snaps through the first three games.

Despite the overwhelming majority of the snap share going to Keenan, Licandro performed almost parallel to Keenan through the first three weeks. Licandro and Keenan both completed 51 per cent of their pass attempts, and both averaged an accuracy grade of 3 out of 5.

In Week 4 against Windsor, Keenan took every rep at quarterback and produced the first win of the season for the Gaels. Keenan threw for 265 yards and a touchdown, completing 50 per cent of his passes with an accuracy grade of 2.95, marginally below average.

On the ground, Keenan added 50 yards rushing on five carries. Following the win, Keenan looked to firmly cement himself as the Gaels starting quarterback for the remainder of the 2019 season.

However, the Gaels then started Licandro against the Toronto Varsity Blues. He led them to an upset win, and then got the start in a loss to the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks. Licandro took every snap at quarterback through these two games.

In his starts, Licandro threw for 469 yards (234.5 yards per game) and three touchdowns. He completed 51 per cent of his passing attempts and averaged an accuracy grade of 2.9.

The scary similarity in their stats is interesting. What’s more interesting is that they seem to run two different, strategically-deployed offences.

The pattern of starts may not have been as arbitrary as it seemed on the face of it, less a feeling-out process than a concentrated effort to exploit defensive weaknesses.

When Keenan is taking reps, the Gaels kept passes shorter, threw more over the middle crossing routes and slants, and called many more run plays specific to the quarterback.

The Gaels called 17 run plays specific to his athletic ability and averaged four designed QB runs per game.

When Licandro is under centre, the Gaels are more likely to call passing plays that allow Licandro to take deeper shots downfield, and they don’t ask him to run the ball often. The only called run plays for Licandro were on short-yardage sneak plays.

The offensive game planning seems to be dependent on who is in at quarterback. When Licandro is in, it’s a much more downfield attack, whereas when Keenan is in, it’s a much more balanced, short-yardage passing attack, with more called run plays to favour Keenan’s athleticism.

As per custom, Head Coach Steve Snyder demurred when asked who would be starting this week against Guelph. Odds are it will be Keenan, since Guelph’s fearsome pass-rush, which leads the province in sacks with 24, isn’t likely to allow Licandro the time to drop back and heave it deep, and instead favours Keenan’s quick passing and ad hoc running.

It’s going to be tough sledding for whoever ends up starting. Guelph has a strong secondary to complement their pass-rushing—the Gryphon’s nine interceptions are third most in the OUA.

The Gaels will honour military personnel, firefighters, paramedics, and police officers at Thursday night’s game. Fans are also encouraged to bring non-perishable food items to contribute to the Gaels Tackle Hunger Food Drive.

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