Starting QB spot up for grabs

Could there be a quarterback controversy brewing in Salt Lake City?

With incumbent starter Brett Elliott ready to return from a broken left wrist for this Friday’s meeting with the No. 19 Oregon Ducks, U football coach Urban Meyer is faced with one his most pivotal decisions of the season.

Meyer will wait until Thursday to decide between Elliott, who fractured the wrist while attempting to dive for a potential game-tying two-point conversion against Texas A&M on Sept. 9, and sophomore Alex Smith, who has led the Utes (3-1) to consecutive victories over California and Colorado State.

After struggling to learn Meyer’s spread offense early on this spring, Smith has come into his own lately and has become more and more comfortable on the field.

He is coming off a blistering performance against the Rams, in which he completed 17 of 21 passes for 158 yards to lead the Utes to an upset victory. On the season, he is completing 72 percent of his passes and has yet to throw an interception.

Despite Smith’s recent success, coach Meyer insists that will not be the main factor in his decision, and Elliott will be given an equal chance to win back the job.

“The guy who practices the best is going to play,” Meyer said. “Brett still has a cast on his arm, so we’ll have to see how that goes. But my decision all depends on how they respond this week.”

The original prognosis for Elliott’s injury was that he would miss four-to-six weeks. He seems to be right on schedule, with the Oregon game coming 27 days after he sustained the fracture.

Elliott led the Utes to a 40-20 win over Utah State in the team’s season opener, but struggled to complete passes a week later in the loss to Texas A&M.

With the bulk of conference play still on the slate-beginning Oct. 11 against San Diego State-whoever is given the green light at quarterback may be in place for the rest of the season. However, Meyer expects his quarterbacks to perform in practice if they want to lead the offense.

“The quarterback position will be just like any other position, whether it’s running backs, wide receivers, linemen-it doesn’t matter,” Meyer said. “Whoever has the most success on the practice field will get the go-ahead on Saturdays. That’s the way it’s going to be every week.”

Meyer’s decision may have serious implications on the future of both Ute QBs.

Should Elliott take back the job, it may halt the progress of Smith, who already lost an entire season of eligibility last season after appearing only briefly on the playing field. Should Smith go back to the bench, Elliott would be the odds-on favorite to start once again in 2004, leaving Smith’s senior campaign as his only full season of play.

But if Smith takes the job, Elliott’s career as a starter could very possibly be over. Smith, considered by most to be the most talented quarterback on the Ute roster, has impressed the U coaching staff with his poise and control of the offense-and has only gotten better from week to week over the past few months.

If Smith remains the starter for the remainder of this season, the offense likely belongs to him for good.

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