ROCK ISLAND — Instead of being a football coach, there has to be some part of Steve Bell that wishes he was a mad scientist.
The third-year Augustana boss would know exactly where to start with his first project — building the perfect quarterback for the struggling Vikings.
Augustana is 1-5, 1-3 heading into Saturday's homecoming contest against Millikin and, despite being seven games into the season, is still trying to figure out its quarterback situation. That is not Augie's only issue right now, but it is problematic.
The same scenario has haunted Bell since he took the job. The quarterback guru groomed a number of talented QBs at Monmouth College, including NFL backup Alex Tanney, now with the Tennessee Titans.
The last two years, now juniors Zach Fuller and Luke Bleyer spent the preseason battling for starting honors, with Fuller earning the nod both years. His season-ending ankle injury in the second game this year opened the door for change. And it hasn't stopped revolving since.
Both Bleyer and freshman Alek Jacobs, the former Rock Island standout, have been asked to get the job done. Both have done some things well. Both have also struggled at times.
And that has been Augie's dilemma of late. Bleyer, who looks like and is a pocket passer, lacks mobility. Jacobs, at 5-foot-10, 175-pounds, is much better on his feet than throwing the ball.
If only they could be morphed into one.
“Both are talented,” said Bell of the two active QBs. “It's just a matter of figuring out the puzzle right now.”
That puzzle, though, has been difficult to piece together for offensive coordinator Josh Kotecki, who has taken over play-calling duties from Bell since Week 4's victory over Elmhurst.
“We're past the starting quarterback right now, and it's what's best for the team,” said Bell of using two quarterbacks despite previously being adamant about having one guy there. “We need to find something to create rhythm in the offense. If that means that we have to play two kids, so be it at this point. One's really talented with his feet, one with his arm. It's not that they can't do other things, it's that they're not exceptionally good at it.”
Having both quarterbacks not be one-dimensional is critical — even if what they are asked to do is not their forte. Putting Jacobs in for running plays and Bleyer in for passing packages is a recipe for disaster — just handing the defense your playbook.
In his first start last week, Jacobs relied too much on his feet as he ran the ball 22 times for 74 yards. He completed 10 of 21 passes for just 77 yards as the Vikings totaled only 162 yards offense in 63 snaps.
“There was stuff we were calling in the passing game that was wide open,” said Bell. “The problem was, we weren't throwing it because that wasn't the comfort zone of the kid that was out there. Not that he can't do it; he could've done it. Sometimes when you're young and inexperienced, you rely on what you're good at, and that was what he was doing. … There were times it was really clean and we needed to take advantage of that.”
Bleyer, who had a rough outing two starts ago vs. Carthage when he took some heavy hits and didn't look right, only was on the field for five snaps last week.
“We still have to have the capability of playing them both,” said Bell, noting internal conversations this week have focused on a better split of snaps. “There are going to be times when we absolutely have to throw the ball and we better have our guy in there who can spin it. There are going to be times we want to run the ball, and we sure had better have a guy who can run it.
“In the best of both worlds, we have a guy who can do both, but we just don't have that right now. But we cannot be one dimensional. No way.”